In 1977, inmates at the Maryland House of Correction ("MHC") filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. The plaintiffs, who were represented in part by the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the Court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the defendants had violated their constitutional rights by allowing MHC to become dangerously overcrowded, subjecting them to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In 1978, a similar lawsuit was filed challenging the conditions at the Maryland Correctional Institute ("MCI") at Hagerstown, Maryland. The cases were subsequently consolidated.
On May 17, 1978, the District Court (Judge Alexander Harvey II) granted declaratory and injunctive relief to the plaintiffs, finding that the prison was unconstitutionally overcrowded and ordering the prison to discontinue the use of double-celling. The Court ruled that the parties to the lawsuit must try to agree upon an appropriate plan for elimination of overcrowding, warning that if no agreement could be reached, the court would itself determine what relief would be entered. Johnson v. Levine, 450 F.Supp. 648 (D.Md. 1978). The defendants appealed.
In the interim, the defendants came forth with a plan involving construction of a new facility, conversion of an old facility, and early release of prisoners that were believed to be appropriate for release. They claimed that under this plan, the overcrowded conditions would be gone by June 1, 1980. On December 13, 1978, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a per curiam opinion partially affirming the District Court's decision, holding that the prisons were unconstitutionally overcrowded, but finding that the defendants' plan to alleviate overcrowding deserved judicial approval. Johnson v. Levine, 588 F.2d 1378 (4th Cir. 1978).
We are unsure about whether the District Court adopted the defendants' proposed plan, but in 1983, the parties entered into a stipulated agreement providing for population caps and other procedures to address the conditions at both facilities. In 1987, the plaintiffs moved to modify that agreement. As a result of negotiations, the parties entered into a new stipulated agreement on July 8, 1987, resolving a majority of the claims raised by the plaintiffs.
On December 3, 1987, the parties agreed to a supplemental stipulated agreement resolving the remaining issues. These agreements provided comprehensive prospective relief governing a broad spectrum of issues: population limitations, double-celling, environmental conditions, repair and replacement of windows, plumbing fixtures, painted surfaces, roofing, ventilation systems, food services, security, work programs, recreational programs, educational programs, and healthcare. The District Court approved these agreements on February 19, 1988.
On March 8, 1990, the parties jointly stipulated that there were still critical issues in the areas of healthcare, nutrition, environmental conditions, fire safety, and population limits at both institutions involved in this litigation. The parties agreed that the plaintiffs' experts would work together with the defendants to develop specific plans to come into compliance with the stipulated agreements. In return, the defendants agreed not to increase the population at either facility until they were back within the proper population limits, except in an emergency and after notification of the plaintiffs' attorney.
During the negotiations that followed, the parties compiled a list of 83 repairs that needed to be maid at the two facilities. The prison officials provided a timetable of projected dates for completing the repairs, but insisted that they were tentative and conditions at all times on obtaining needed funding. Over the next year, the prison officials made substantial progress in completing the repairs, finishing 69 of the 83 items by July 31, 1991. On June 7, 1991, the prisoners asked the District Court to convert the timetable into a court order and to fine the prison officials $1000 per day for each day that the improvements were delayed, following a 30-day grace period.
On September 19, 1991, the District Court (Judge William M. Nickerson) issued an order approving the timetable as an official agreement (over the objections of the defendants), but denying the request for automatic penalties. The defendants appealed, and on February 22, 1993, the Fourth Circuit (James Harvie Wilkinson III) reversed the District Court's order and held that the timetable could not be enforced as an agreement between the parties. Johnson v. Robinson 987 F.2d 1043 (4th Cir. 1993).
On October 15, 1996, the defendants asked the District Court to terminate the consent decrees in this case pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). The plaintiffs objected, arguing that the PLRA was unconstitutional. On February 26, 1997, the District Court (Judge Nickerson) held that the PLRA was constitutional and that it required the immediate termination of the consent decrees and stipulations that had been approved by the Court in this case because the plaintiffs were unable to point to any ongoing constitutional violation.Kristen Sagar - 10/01/2007