Inmates of several New York correctional facilities sought a preliminary injunction to stop the commissioner and superintendent of Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in upstate New York, from prohibiting inmates from the receipt of copies of a report containing criticisms and complaints about conditions at Attica. In September 1971, Attica suffered an inmate uprising that resulted in the deaths of forty-three persons- thirty-two inmates and eleven correctional employees. In the years following the Attica prison riot, several reports were made by both private organizations and the state government regarding the conditions at the prison. The Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Service (DOCS), Thomas A. Coughlin III, allowed delivery of these reports to members of the prison population. However, on November 22, 1983, a public interest law firm that represents inmates, Prisoners' Legal Services of New York (PLS), published a report that supported prisoners' interests and was antagonistic to prison officials. PLS wrote to Commissioner Coughlin on December 1, 1983, seeking permission to send copies of their report into New York prisons. The Commissioner responded that he would not allow delivery of the PLS report to inmates in the New York prison system, and no reasons for his refusal were given.
On March 19, 1984, inmates from correctional facilities throughout the state brought suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York alleging violations of their First Amendment rights and seeking to enjoin Commissioner Coughlin from interfering with the delivery of copies of the report into New York prisons. An evidentiary hearing was held before Magistrate Judge Ralph W. Smith, Jr., on August 14 and 15, 1984. The role of censorship guidelines contained in DOCS Directive No. 4572 was explored at length during Commissioner Coughlin's testimony at the hearing. That directive was originally issued in 1971 and set forth specific standards by which material sent to inmates was to be reviewed and, if need be, censored. Commissioner Coughlin testified at the evidentiary hearing that he had not applied the standards set out in Directive 4572, and instead his decision to prohibit the PLS report was reached by reference to his personal professional judgment concerning the inherent danger in allowing the report to be read by prisoners.
Magistrate Smith subsequently filed a report-recommendation finding that Commissioner Coughlin had not applied Directive 4572 and, moreover, the PLS report did not violate the guidelines set forth in it. Magistrate Smith also found that the PLS report was not unlike the earlier reports which had been allowed into New York state prisons, and that those reports had been received by inmates without demonstrable adverse effect on security interests. Magistrate Smith recommended that a preliminary injunction be granted because the prisoners had shown irreparable injury and had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. On November 8, 1984, the District Court (Senior District Judge James T. Foley) adopted the recommendation and enjoined Commissioner Coughlin from refusing to allow inmates to receive upon request the PLS report. Abdul Wali v. Coughlin, 596 F.Supp. 1064 (N.D.N.Y. 1984).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Circuit Judge Irving R. Kaufman) affirmed the granted injunction and held that corrections officials failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that refusal to allow delivery of the PLS report regarding prison conditions was necessary to further important penological interests. Abdul Wali v. Coughlin, 754 F.2d 1015 (2nd Cir. 1985).
The docket in this case was not available on PACER, and accordingly, we do not have further information on the case.Tom Madison - 03/31/2006