Represented by ACLU National Prison Project attorneys and private counsel, on August 4, 1986, prisoners confined at the Occoquan Facilities of the District of Columbia's Lorton Correctional Complex filed a class action proceeding under 42 U.S.C §1983 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. They named as defendants District of Columbia government officials responsible for these medium security facilities and asserted that their Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights were being violated by reason of an excessive inmate population and by deficiencies in environmental health and safety, food services, fire safety, medical and dental care, and mental health services. On August 13, 1986, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judge June L. Green) certified a plaintiff class that included present and future persons confined to the Occoquan Facilities.
Following trial and post-trial briefing, Judge Green awarded judgment in plaintiffs' favor on December 22, 1986. Inmates of Occuquan v. Barry, 650 F.Supp. 619 (D.D.C. 1986). Judge Green found that the numerous deficiencies alleged by the plaintiffs were proven to be systemic in nature and, together with chronic overcrowding, combined to subject plaintiffs to cruel and unusual punishment. To remedy this Eighth Amendment violation, the judge first imposed inmate population limits, both for the individual dormitories comprising the three Occuquan Facilities and for the institution, cumulatively. Her opinion also required the defendants to provide the Court with written reports. The reports were to address (1) planned compliance with the population caps and, (2) every thirty days, the steps being taken to address the institution's many deficiencies. In evaluating the evidence before her, Judge Green frequently referred to standards established by professional correctional, health, and safety associations. Her opinion concluded by encouraging the defendants to adopt a goal of compliance with these professional standards. The defendants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
On April 12, 1988, that appellate court, in a 2-1 decision (with its opinion written by Judge Kenneth Starr), vacated the District Court's ruling and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. Inmates of Occuquan v. Barry, 844 F.2d 828 (D.C. Cir. 1988). Judge Starr wrote that the lower court's repeated reliance on professional agencies' standards erroneously failed to focus on whether prison deficiencies equated to deprivations of "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Additionally, the appellate majority ruled that the district court exceeded its equitable powers by imposing population caps without first seeking to specifically correct deficiencies that the court had identified as constitutional violations. District Judge Harold H. Greene, sitting by designation on the appellate panel, filed a dissent.
The plaintiffs sought a rehearing of the panel's ruling by the entire District Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, but this en banc review request was denied on July 8, 1988. Inmates of Occuquan v. Barry, 850 F.2d 796 (D.C. Cir. 1988). Circuit Judge Starr filed an opinion concurring in the denial, and separate dissenting opinions were filed by Circuit Judges Pamela Wald and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Upon remand, the District Court (Judge Green) conducted a trial. Afterward, on June 30, 1989, she ruled that Eighth Amendment violations had been proven as to matters of sanitation, bathroom facilities, fire safety, health care, and staffing. Constitutional violations had not been proven regarding food services, inmate jobs, educational and drug programming, library facilities, and general idleness. Inmates of Occuquan v. Barry, 717 F. Supp. 854, 865-868 (D.D.C. 1989). The judge required the defendants to file a written report of how they anticipated correcting the constitutional violations. Additionally, Judge Green ordered the defendants not to cause the institution's population to exceed the level as of the date of her decision, in that then-planned renovations of certain dorms otherwise could cause population stress as inmates were shifted among available facilities.
Over the next decade, in most years the case generated occasional proposals, motions, and agreed-upon and supplemental plans, as well as consent orders and other orders addressing institutional conditions. These documents can be found at PC-DC-3, documents 2 through 21. The 119-page court docket reflects that Special Officers of the Court were appointed during the litigation, including Grace M. Lopes and Karen M. Schneider, to act as Masters aiding the court.
Included among the post-trial documents is a December 18, 1989, agreed plan by the parties to address deficiencies in hygiene, sanitation, ventilation, asbestos presence, fire safety, health care, mental health services, and physical safety. The plan was approved by Judge Green on December 21, 1989, as partial remediation. A supplemental agreed plan filed by the parties on January 26, 1990, addressed environmental health issues (lighting and airborne disease risks), fire safety and health care staffing. It, too, was approved by Judge Green as partial remediation, but her February 7, 1990, order added that monetary penalties would be imposed upon the defendants if they excessively delayed their compliance.
During 1993 and 1994, the parties' counsel met with Special Master Grace Lopes and agreed, in filings of August 1, 1993, and April 8 and December 14, 1994, that monthly reports would be filed with the Special Master describing the mental health care provided at the Occoquan Facilities.
The defendants' progress in complying with remedial directives lagged, which led in 1995 to plaintiffs' filing a contempt motion and a resultant supplemental plan agreed upon by the parties and made effective via a December 15, 1995, consent order. In the order, Judge Green imposed required correctional officer staffing levels, dormitory population limits, required a security audit, made provision for improving protected inmate separation from disciplined inmates, and addressed mental health issues. She directed development of an institutional mental health care plan, set a minimum level of psychologist staffing, ordered improved tracking and recall of inmates receiving psychological services, and called for medical record consolidation and mental health screenings of all inmates. Bimonthly compliance reports were required by the order, which also set a contempt fine schedule for instances of non-compliance and provided for defendants' payment of plaintiffs' attorney fees, as well as expert and monitoring expenses, resulting from prosecuting contempt or related proceedings resulting from defendants' non-compliance.
On July 23, 1996, a consent order similarly provided that defendants pay such fees and expenses relating to non-compliance; however, this order largely dealt with environmental health and fire safety issues. It directed plumbing repairs, water temperature improvements, a preventive maintenance plan, ventilation repairs, carbon dioxide monitoring, window/screen and kitchen equipment repairs, housekeeping and vermin control plans, mattress sanitization and fireproofing, availability of cleaning supplies, correctional officer training, kitchen wall cleaning, and food temperature improvements, and set required distances between inmates' beds to limit air borne disease transmission. Judge Green also allowed for plaintiffs' compliance inspection of facilities, with 24-hour prior notice. Her fire safety directives included smoke detector, alarm, dryer vent and lighting repairs, certain structural improvements, an operational fire alarm system, and fire drills and evacuation plans. Bi-monthly reporting of compliance progress was also required.
Two notable orders were entered with the parties' consent in 1997. Judge Green, on February 5, 1997, directed defendants to hire a system-wide medical coordinator with powers to enable compliance with the court's health-related orders. The judge's November 20, 1997, order authorized the Special Master to form and retain an expert team at defendants' expense. The team would review and make recommendations on matters of security, workforce utilization, classification and safety, and maintenance and sanitation. This latter order set a date for opening a new adjustment unit to house prisoners on administrative and disciplinary segregation.
The following year, on January 20, 1998, a three judge panel of the District Court, including Judge Green, convened and granted a consent order adopting a population ceiling and related procedures for the institution. (The three-judge panel was a requirement for entry of such a ceiling, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act.) Judge Green then, on February 5, 1998, amended her prior orders, upon the joint motion of the parties, to allow for a substituted correctional officer deployment plan and modification of ceiling numbers earlier set for beds per certain dorms. Continued use of a Special Master and the team of experts, at defendants' expense, was approved in order to provide management assistance, staffing and prisoner population limits, classification and maintenance aid, and to develop initiatives to limit prisoner idleness.
Proceedings in the case continued well into 2003, with responsibility for rulings by then having been accepted by District Judge William B. Bryant. Throughout, occasional disbursements were made for Special Masters' and expert consultants' expenses and fees. These payments came from funds the defendants were periodically ordered to deposit into the court registry. In addition to these expenses, on one occasion a $40,000 payment from these defense-provided funds was directed by Judge Bryant to the Georgetown University Law Center for the operating expenses of the D.C. Family Literacy and Street Law programs. During this period, consent orders modifying prior orders relating to staffing, population, and institutional conditions were irregularly issued. The final docket entry presently in this database reflects receipt by the court of another deposit of funds by the defendants to the court's account.
Additionally, the court's docket reflect a relationship between this case and two other prison condition cases challenging conditions at other components of the Lorton Correctional Complex. Also filed in the D.C. District Court (docket numbers 79-1726 and 80-2136), these cases, John Doe v. District of Columbia and Twelve John Does v. District of Columbia, are designated PC-DC-0007 and PC-DC-0008, respectively, in the Clearinghouse.Mike Fagan - 04/09/2008