On November 30, 1977, persons incarcerated in the maximum security unit of the Colorado State Penitentiary ("Old Max") at Canon City, Colorado, filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law against the State of Colorado, the Colorado Department of Corrections, and the maximum security unit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Colorado, the National Prison Project, and the Colorado Coalition of Legal Services Programs, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that conditions of confinement at Old Max violated their constitutional rights.
Old Max was originally built in the 1860s. In the 1970s, Old Max was formally criticized by a state grand jury, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the American Correctional Association and state health and safety inspectors. In 1975, there was a massive riot at the facility. According to Feely and Rubin, "[i]n the fall of 1977, Judge John Kane of the District Court for Colorado invited the Colorado ACLU to bring a class action suit on behalf of all inmates at Old Max. The recipient of a steady stream of pro se petitions from inmates at Old Max, Kane was also well aware of the problem through the less formal mechanism of reading the local newspaper. The petition that finally gave rise to the case was filed in his court on November 30, 1977. It was a handwritten document by Felix Ramos, presenting the seemingly mild complaint that he was being denied employment which was guaranteed to him under state law. In fact, the complaint implicated several larger issues; inmates sought jobs to obtain a respite from Old Max's crowded, noisy, stuffy, smell cells, in which they were otherwise locked down as much as twenty-three hours per day. In addition, they were not eligible for social and educational programs unless they were employed." Malcom M. Feeley and Edward L. Rubin, Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State 100 (Cambridge University Press 2000) (1999).
On March 31, 1978, the District Court (Judge John L. Kane, Jr.) certified the class as consisting of all persons who were then or in the future might be incarcerated at the Facility, or the new maximum or close security unit, of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
After the District Court (Judge Kane) denied the defendants' motion to dismiss or abstain on May 17, 1978, and after a year and a half of discovery, on October 5, 1979, the Governor of Colorado, Richard D. Lamm, filed a letter with the court asking for more time to find consensus on a negotiated agreement.
After the District Court (Judge Kane) granted the Governor's request for an extension and still no consensus emerged, a five week trial began on October 15, 1979, after which the Court made a bench ruling for the plaintiffs, holding that conditions at the Facility deprived persons incarcerated there of rights protected by the Constitution and violated numerous rules of state law. On December 20, 1979, the Court issued a memorandum opinion, supplanting its bench ruling, in which it made numerous findings of fact respecting unconstitutional conditions at the Facility and ordering injunctive relief, including ordering the Facility closed. Specifically, the Court found conditions including "insufficient living space with inadequate sanitation, ventilation, light, heat, noise control and fire safety; lack of protection from violence, massive and pervasive idleness because of a lack of productive activity; inadequate medical care (both mental and physical); and unnecessarily restrictive classification of prisoners into security classifications which exacerbate physical and mental deterioration." Ramos v. Lamm, 485 F. Supp. 122 (D. Colo. 1979). The Court further found problems with visitation, mail policies (in refusing to deliver letters in any language other than English), and the law library. Recognizing that "[t]here is no dispute that 'the Constitution does not stop at the prison gate, but rather inures to the benefit of all, even to t hose citizens behind prison walls,'" the Court ordered that Old Max be closed, enjoining the defendants from confining members of the plaintiff class in the Facility, and that the defendants had to take steps to remedy the other outlined problems. On February 21, 1980, the Court subsequently denied the defendants' motions to stay the proceedings and to vacate the prior order; the Court granted the plaintiffs' motions to compel compliance with discovery requests. The defendants appealed.
On September 25, 1980, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge William Judson Holloway, Jr.) affirmed in part, set aside in part and vacated in part the District Court's order. Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559 (10th Cir. 1980). The Court affirmed the District Court's ruling that the defendants did violate the plaintiffs' rights with respect to shelter and sanitation, food, personal safety, health care, mail, access to the courts, and further found that the District Court could consider the progress of the new facility's construction when fashioning remedies; however, the Court found the visitation restrictions not unreasonable. On November 10, 1980, the Tenth Circuit denied the defendants' motion to rehear the case en banc. And, on April 6, 1981, the Supreme Court denied the defendants' petition for a writ of certiorari. Ramos v. Lamm, 450 U.S. 1041 (1981).
On August 26, 1981, the District Court (Judge Kane) refused to modify its order that the Facility be closed, finding it remained unfit for occupancy, and further approved the joint stipulations of the parties concerning improvements to the Facility in the interim. Ramos v. Lamm, 520 F. Supp. 1059 (1981).
On October 2, 1981, the District Court (Judge Kane) approved the parties' joint stipulation concerning the continued use of Cellhouse 3 at the Facility. The stipulation required a number of improvements to the Cellhouse, and incorporated the stipulations from August 26, 1981.
On March 26, 1982, the District Court (Judge Kane) made a number of rulings awarding the plaintiffs attorneys' fees. Ramos v. Lamm, 539 F. Supp. 730 (D. Colo. 1982). The defendants appealed.
On August 31, 1982, the District Court (Judge Kane) approved the defendants' Double Bunk Plan for housing inmates at Cellhouse 3; however, recognizing that, while "double bunking is not ideal," "it represents the most effective short-term solution to prison overcrowding,", the Court approved the Plan on a number of conditions.
On June 15, 1983, the Tenth Circuit (Judge James Kenneth Logan) established guidelines for the awarding of attorneys' fees and remanded after the defendants' appealed the District Court's March 26, 1982, order. Ramos v. Lamm, 713 F.2d 546 (10th Cir. 1983).
On August 7, 1985, the District Court (Judge Kane) approved a consent decree resolving all but two of the outstanding issues between the parties and applicable to all prisoners presently and in the future incarcerated at any one of the three correctional facilities known as the Centennial Correctional Facility, the Shadow Mountain Correctional Facility and the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. The consent decree spoke to conditions at the facilities respecting the physical facilities and sanitation, safety, physical and mental health care, double bunking and overcrowding, as well as implementation and monitoring procedures including a grievance system, a requirement for inspections and reports, and dispute resolution.
On January 10, 1986, the District Court (Judge Kane) approved a consent decree resolving issues respecting the plaintiff class' legal access, establishing procedures for such access.
On March 27, 1986, the District Court (Judge Kane) awarded the plaintiffs attorneys' fees. Ramos v. Lamm, 632 F. Supp. 376 (D. Colo. 1986).
On June 17, 1987, the defendants filed a motion to modify the consent decree by occupancy limits and permitting double bunking. We have no information pertaining to the District Court's ruling in response to this motion.
On March 28, 1989, the District Court (Judge James R. Carrigan) approved a modification to the consent decree which provided for rules governing the HIV testing of inmates, their subsequent classification, and the confidentiality of their medical information.
On March 31, 1989, the District Court (Judge Carrigan) approved a further modification of the consent decree. Under the new order, the defendants were permitted to double bunk inmates during the construction of a new diagnostic unit, were required to cap the populations at amounts set by the Court, were required to allocate certain funds, were subject to semi-annual review, and had to comply with certain HIV policies.
On December 8, 1989, the District Court (Judge Carrigan) issued an order approving the parties' joint stipulation for closure of care. Under the agreement, the defendants agreed to supply a number of items. According to Feeley and Rubin, "[i]nterviews with ACLU attorneys and corrections officials in 1990 indicated that over the next year they did receive the materials called for in the order and were generally satisfied. Both ACLU lawyers and department officials expressed no doubt that the prisons were in much better shape following the litigation and that there was a better system of continuous review and inspection of programs and facilities." However, "there is...the possibility that the gap between demands and resources will once again widen. Still, as a result of Ramos, Colorado obtained three new facilities in place of a dilapidated century-old prison, improved the security and safety in the prisons, expanded its medical and health services to inmates, improved a host of other services...and institutionalized an expanding process of inspection by relevant state and local health and safety agencies." Feeley and Rubin, at 110-11.
No PACER docket is available, so we have no further information on this case.Josh Altman - 11/17/2006