In 1975, a pretrial detainee filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against county officials of the Rockingham County Jail, New Hampshire, arguing that the conditions at the Rockingham County Jail violated detainees' ...
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In 1975, a pretrial detainee filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against county officials of the Rockingham County Jail, New Hampshire, arguing that the conditions at the Rockingham County Jail violated detainees' constitutional rights.
The Court (Judge Hugh H. Brownes, Jr.) considered the overarching question of whether pretrial detainees who had been accused of unbailable offenses or felonies, and were thus higher security risks while detained, were subject to harsher conditions of confinement based on the heightened security interests of the state.
The Court concluded that treatment of the felony pretrial detainees must be equal to or less onerous than that accorded to convicted offenders, otherwise the incarceration became punishment in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court then applied this principle to the grievances, ordering extensive remedial actions to improve and alter the conditions of the jail as applied to the pretrial detainees. Some of those rulings were appealed by the defendant county officials, as examined below.
In 1977, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (Judge Levin H. Campbell) heard the appeals of the defendant county and based its holding on the principle that felony pretrial detainees are not entitled to the same privileges as sentenced inmates because the state has a heightened security interest in the arguably more dangerous pretrial detainees. Feeley v. Sampson 870 F.2d 364 (1st Cir. 1978). Therefore, the jail and county authorities have discretion to decide prison regulations as necessary for security. Accordingly, the appellate court held that jail officials have discretion to make visitation hours and regulate phone use. On mail surveillance, the Court found legitimate the state's interest in monitoring communications that might lead to escape plans. On personal belongings, the appellate court found the lower court's list of approved items a detainee could keep in his cell too extensive and remanded the question back to allow jail officials the opportunity to determine what items could be restricted. On the matter of counsel at disciplinary proceedings, the court held that detainees do not have the right to counsel in all cases, particularly where the security issues are great and the time they spend in incarceration at the facility is not long. Finally, the appellate court reversed the lower court's finding that transferring felony detainees to state prisons deprived them of their constitutional rights if and when the conditions at the state prison were worse than at the jail facility. The appellate court found instead that worsening of conditions did not trigger any constitutional interest as long as the nature and duration of the new form of incarceration did not exceed the original purpose for which the detainee was committed.Kristen Sagar - 06/07/2007