Benjamin v. Horn, 75 Civ. 3073 (HB) (S.D.N.Y)

Related Cases: For enforcement purposes, this action is consolidated with the following cases: Ambrose v. Malcolm, Detainees of Queens House of Detention v. Malcolm, Detainees of Brooklyn House of Detention for Men v. Malcolm, Maldonado v. Ciuros, Forts v. Malcolm, Rosenthal v. Malcolm..

Nature of Claims: These consolidated class actions challenge a broad range of conditions and practices of confinement in the New York City jails and were initially resolved by comprehensive consent judgments, enforcement of which was a major concern of PRP for two decades. Many provisions of the consent judgments were terminated in 2001 pursuant to the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act in the absence of evidence of a "current and ongoing violation of Federal rights," after the PLRA's judgment termination provisions were upheld against PRP's constitutional challenge.

Current status: Plaintiffs proceeded to hearings on the non-terminated issues, and obtained judgments finding continuing violations in the areas of counsel visiting, restraint practices, and various aspects of environmental conditions (lighting, noise, ventilation, excessive heat and cold, sanitation, medical clinic conditions), which were almost entirely affirmed on appeal. Enforcement of these judgments continues, with the assistance of a court monitor whose tenure PRP successfully defended on appeal. The highly technical issue of fire safety remains to be adjudicated.

The status of the remaining issues is as follows:

  • Restraint practices: The district court held in 2000 that the painful and sometimes injurious "Red ID" and "enhanced restraint" practices, in which some prisoners were subjected to multiple restraints and rear-cuffed for up to 14 hours when they were taken to court, constituted a deprivation of liberty requiring due process protections, including an administrative appeal process and medical review of the appropriateness of such restraints for each prisoner. Its judgment was affirmed on appeal in 2001. The next year, the City was held in contempt for violating the order and sanctions were imposed; further litigation ended when the newly appointed Commissioner changed the policy to side-cuff rather than rear-cuff and to limit the categories of prisoners to whom restraints were applied. In May 2006, after the court monitor found the City in compliance, the court terminated the order conditioned upon development of a plan to track inmates placed in and removed from Red ID/enhanced restraint status, a concern PRP had raised based on complaints of clients placed repeatedly in the restraints based on reasons or evidence that had been discredited in previous proceedings. The plan was developed and the order is now finally terminated.

  • Attorney visiting: The district court held in 2000 that the excessive delays and lack of confidentiality in counsel visits in the jails violated the Constitution, and entered an injunction streamlining procedures, setting time limits for the production of prisoners for visits, and requiring confidentiality in visiting facilities. The judgment was affirmed on appeal in 2001. The delays were largely eliminated, and after considerable delay, negotiation, and false starts the City made renovations for confidentiality in some of the facilities. On August 8, 2006, the court entered an order providing for termination of the Attorney Visits Order, except for the section addressing confidentiality at AMKC. PRP has inspected and verified that the promised work was done and provides confidentiality, and the order has now been finally terminated.

  • Sanitation: In 2001, the district court found that sanitary conditions in the jails, including some of their medical areas, did not meet constitutional standards. It entered an injunction setting minimum requirements and procedures for sanitation (e.g., specifying daily cleaning and sanitation in shower facilities, prescribing cleaning procedures for cells between occupants, requiring mattresses to be clean and in good repair, etc.). The judgment was affirmed in 2003. In 2008, the district court granted defendants’ motion to terminate the sanitation provisions, on the ground that there was no longer an ongoing constitutional violation. Project staff successfully appealed this decision. The Second Circuit held in November 2009 that the district court had failed to allow the plaintiffs an adequate opportunity to dispute the City’s evidence, vacated the decision, and sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

  • Exposure to extremes of temperature: In 2001, the district court found that detainees' exposure to extremely hot or cold conditions violated the Constitution. It ordered a program of temperature monitoring, with defendants to take prompt action when temperatures fall below 68 degrees or above 85 degrees in housing areas. In addition, it required defendants annually to inspect, repair, and certify the operability of the jails' heating, cooling, and ventilation systems and ensure that all windows are operable. That judgment was affirmed on appeal in 2003. The district court in 2008 terminated the heat monitoring provisions on the ground that the problem of extreme temperatures no longer was serious enough to violate the Constitution.

  • Protection from heat related illness: In connection with the extreme temperature finding, based on PRP's recommendation and defendants' consent, the court monitor retained a nationally known expert in heat-related illness. Based on her recommendations, the court entered an order in 2004 requiring various protective measures, the most significant of which was to place prisoners with any of a number of medical conditions into the minority of jail housing units which are air-conditioned. The court placed a one-year automatic termination date into the order. However, the City failed to comply in significant respects, and also failed to provide the court monitor with documentation necessary to assessing compliance. On the court monitor's recommendation and PRP's request, the court removed the termination provision from the order over the City's vehement objection, finding substantial evidence that the defendants had failed to house heat-sensitive prisoners in appropriate locations, failed to maintain functional air conditioning in housing units designated for heat-sensitive prisoners, failed to provide a ventilation plan for the punitive segregation areas, failed to show that cool showers are available in all of the housing units and created exceptions to its order for certain categories of prisoners without permission or even notice. The court also modified and supplemented its order in various respects. The court monitor has continued to find noncompliance with various aspects of the order, including one episode of outright falsification of temperature data at the Manhattan Detention Center, and has repeatedly extended and modified the order. In May 2009, the City moved to terminate the current order, and in October 2009 the district court granted their motion, but provided for continuing monitoring and an opportunity to seek reinstatement of the order if the defendants do not adequately protect the safety of these vulnerable prisoners. The City has appealed that order.

  • Modular housing units: These flimsy temporary units have been past their useful life for years, and the court expressed its special interest in either closing them or making them habitable. Both PRP and the Department of Correction brought in structural engineers to examine them. Among the conditions uncovered were broken roof trusses in several of the units, rusted structural members in a few, and severe water damage to walls and floors in many units caused by water leaks in the pipe chases that had apparently gone unnoticed by the Department of Correction for years. After protracted negotiations-during which defendants closed the structurally unsound modulars and repaired the leaking pipe chases and much of the resulting water damage-the parties submitted the remaining disputed issues to the court, which in February 2006 entered an order providing that the closed modulars would not again be used for prisoner housing, approving the defendants' proposed maintenance plan for the remaining modulars and providing for a period of monitoring of that plan's implementation.

  • Lighting: The district court found in 2001 that lighting in most of the jails was constitutionally inadequate, and directed the City to provide 20 foot candles of lighting in prisoners' living areas. The Second Circuit in 2003 affirmed the finding of liability but remanded the issue of adequate lighting for further proceedings concerning the appropriate remedy. We conducted another inspection of the jails' lighting conditions with our environmental health expert, which confirmed both the appropriateness of the remedy and the inadequacy of much of the existing lighting. The Department of Correction has identified and begun installing lighting equipment that will in most instances meet the 20 foot candle requirement. The court entered an order on April 7, 2006, mostly negotiated, requiring the City to provide 20 foot candles of lighting in all prisoner housing by May 1, 2006, or by February 28, 2007 if capital renovations are required, and providing for monitoring of compliance. Monitoring is ongoing and has shown that some lighting remains substandard after the renovations, for reasons that remain to be explored.

    The district court in 2001 also found task and general lighting inadequate in some of the jails' medical areas. That lighting has been upgraded.

  • Ventilation: The district court found in 2001 that the jail ventilation systems were in large part inoperative and that overall the lack of ventilation failed to meet constitutional standards. This finding was affirmed on appeal in 2003, and a dispute over the appropriate remedy was resolved on remand later in 2003. The order required that all ventilation systems be kept in good repair and that the City so certify to the court annually. At plaintiffs' request, the court monitor retained a ventilation expert, a process which entailed long delay. The expert's report, which addressed four jails, found serious dysfunctions in the ventilation system of each, resulting largely from protracted neglect and lack of basic maintenance. PRP requested that the expert be directed to inspect the rest of the jails as quickly as manageable. The defendants opposed that request, and the court monitor brokered an agreement under which the expert was to inspect two more jails in the near future without prejudice to the question of further inspections. They were also to address possible solutions for excessive temperatures in segregation units, and later they were asked to look at ventilation in bathroom and shower areas. Meanwhile, the City submitted a proposed preventive maintenance plan for ventilation equipment, and was to provide a plan and schedule for correction of the defects identified by the court monitor's expert in the near future.

    In September 2006, the ventilation consultant issued a second report, which, despite the prior report and the promulgation of a preventive maintenance plan, found the same sorts of dilapidated conditions at GMDC and ARDC as at the jails they had reported on previously. In addition, the consultant confirmed what everyone already knew about the dire condition of ventilation in shower and bathroom areas and the contribution of inadequate ventilation to the prevalence of mold and mildew. The consultant also put forth a plan for cooling the Central Punitive Segregation Unit at a cost estimated at $1.432 million.

    The consultant's observations were made almost simultaneously with the Department of Correction's certification to the court (required by the 2001 injunction) that their ventilation systems were in working order except for certain minor identified problems. Defendants then submitted a "corrected and updated ventilation certification" comprising a five-page list of ventilation deficiencies, the vast majority previously unacknowledged, accompanied by an assurance that future certifications would be complete. They also retained a ventilation consultant, whose analysis and recommendations were similar to the court monitor’s consultant. Based on their consultant’s recommendations, the City submitted a new plan for ventilation renovations to the district court, which granted plaintiffs’ motion to embody the terms of their plan in a court order. The defendants have appealed that order, and briefing of the appeal will be completed in July 2009., and the appeal was argued in November 2009. We await the Second Circuit’s decision.

  • Fire safety: There are serious deficiencies in fire safety in the jails, and the court monitor had retained an expert to assess them in the 1990s. We litigated this issue for a small part of the system in 1998 and hope to resolve the rest of it without litigation. The court monitor's expert has submitted a new series of reports updating his prior observations. The first of these, issued in February 2006, concerning the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island, found that much of the fire safety equipment (e.g., fire alarms and cell-unlocking mechanisms) is inoperative, that staff do not know it is inoperative, that many fire exits are obstructed and have been for long periods of time (e.g., by a tree, which did not grow there overnight), that fire drills and internal fire safety inspection and repair procedures appear to have become rote exercises, and that nothing has been done about the fact that the entire jail is one undivided fire area (i.e., no smoke barriers or other separators have been installed). A subsequent report on the North Infirmary Command (September 2006) reflected similarly distressing observations, in particular that the deficiencies the consultant observed were the same ones observed five years previously. The City has acknowledged that its previous efforts in this area were not productive, and has stated its intention to move forward with a new program to cure the jails’ fire safety problems, though their plans are sketchy at this point. We hope to reach a negotiated resolution of these issues. The court monitor’s fire safety consultant will assess conditions and the adequacy of the City’s plan to correct them at several jails in early 2010.

Persons Affected: All pre-trial detainees in the City jails, about 12,000 at present.

Reported decisions: These decisions are too numerous to list. Selected important and/or recent decisions include:

  • Benjamin v. Malcolm, 564 F.Supp. 668 (S.D.N.Y. 1983) (holding jail crowding unconstitutional, requiring compliance with previously imposed population limits)
  • Benjamin v. Malcolm, 803 F.2d 46 (2d Cir. 1986) (affirming order requiring state to remove sentenced felons from jail system promptly to relieve overcrowding)
  • Benjamin v. Sielaff, 752 F.Supp. 140 (S.D.N.Y. 1990) (holding City in contempt for disobeying order concerning housing of newly admitted detainees).
  • Benjamin v. Malcolm, 156 F.R.D. 561 (S.D.N.Y. 1994) (holding City in contempt for disobeying order regarding jail food service).
  • Benjamin v. Kerik, 1998 WL 799161 (S.D.N.Y., Nov. 13, 1998) (finding unconstitutional fire safety conditions in several jails).
  • Benjamin v. Jacobson, 172 F.3d 144 (2d Cir. 1999), aff'g in part, rev'g in part and remanding 935 F.Supp. 332 (S.D.N.Y. 1996), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 824 (1999) (upholding constitutionality of judgment termination provisions of Prison Litigation Reform Act).
  • Benjamin v. Fraser, 264 F.3d 175 (2d Cir. 2001), aff'g 102 F.Supp.2d 157 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (affirming findings of unconstitutional counsel visiting and restraint practices).
  • Benjamin v. Fraser, 2002 WL 31845111 (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 6, 2002) (holding City in contempt for disobedience of order concerning restraint practices).
  • Benjamin v. Fraser, 343 F.3d 35 (2d Cir. 2003), aff'g in part, vacating and remanding in part 161 F.Supp.2d 151 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) and 156 F.Supp.2d 333 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (mostly affirming findings of unconstitutional environmental conditions).
  • Benjamin v. Horn, 2006 WL 1370970 (S.D.N.Y., May 18, 2006) (extending and supplementing the order concerning heat-sensitive prisoners)
  • Benjamin v. Horn, 2009 WL 3765920 (2d Cir., Nov. 12, 2009) (vacating the termination of sanitation provisions of environmental health order), vacating and remanding 2008 WL 4500689 (Oct. 7, 2008).
  • Benjamin v. Schriro, 2009 WL 3464286 (S.D.N.Y., Oct. 26, 2009) (terminating order concerning heat-sensitive prisoners).