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Bono v. Saxbe

decided: April 14, 1980.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois, East St. Louis Division. No. E 74-C-81 -- James L. Foreman, Judge .

Before Cummings, Wood, and Cudahy, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cudahy

Plaintiffs-appellants brought this class action as representatives of all present and future inmates of the Marion Penitentiary who are or who may be confined in that institution's "Control Unit." Appellants contend that both the conditions of confinement in the Control Unit and the manner in which prison officials decide to place inmates in the Control Unit are unconstitutional. The district court ordered some changes in the conditions and in the decision-making process, which appellants claim are insufficient.*fn1 We affirm with respect to most of the matters treated in the district court's two opinions but remand for further proceedings involving two matters as set forth herein.

Marion is a maximum security prison, and it is one of a small number of federal prisons which contain a Control Unit, in which prisoners with demonstrably proven behavior problems may be confined in order to keep them out of the general prison population. Prisoners may be placed in the Marion Control Unit directly from the federal courts, from the general population at Marion or from other federal and state prisons.

1. Cruel and Unusual Punishment Substantive Due Process

The Control Unit at Marion consists of seventy-two single person cells and is one of nine units in which inmates are housed. Prisoners are placed in the Control Unit ostensibly for "administrative segregation," i. e., for confinement of prisoners who would present a significant danger to the safety of other prisoners or staff or who would disrupt the orderly functioning of the prison if they were left in the general population. Confinement in the Control Unit is not intended to be for the purpose of punishment of prisoners, although the district court noted that it had been used punitively on a few occasions.

Appellants claim (1) that the decision to confine an inmate in the Control Unit is a decision to impose cruel and unusual punishment because prisoners were thereby punished in the absence of an alleged and proven offense and (2) that specific conditions in the Control Unit are so harsh as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (This second argument is treated in section 2, infra.) In response to argument (1), the district court stressed that the decision in question involved confinement for administrative reasons, not as a means of punishing defendants. Appellants argue that confinement in the Control Unit is "punitive in essence and effect" and that even if the purpose were administrative, not punitive, the protections of the Eighth Amendment would still apply. We agree that the Eighth Amendment protects the inmates from undergoing cruel and unusual punishment without regard to whether such punishment is imposed for punitive or administrative reasons. But this principle does not prevent defendants from deciding to change the conditions of confinement for administrative reasons, so long as the conditions do not involve cruel and unusual punishment. See Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 686-687, 98 S. Ct. 2565, 57 L. Ed. 2d 522 (1978) and Kelly v. Brewer, 525 F.2d 394, 399-400 (8th Cir. 1975).

The district court correctly held that if inmates were put in the Control Unit as a punishment for an offense or for no reason at all, they would have to be released because such treatment would be a violation of substantive due process. The court ordered defendants to conduct hearings, complete with the procedural safeguards discussed in section 4, infra, to determine if each inmate in the Control Unit was there for the purported administrative purpose to remove those with demonstrable behavior problems from the general prison population. If any prisoners were in the Control Unit for other reasons (which would include being confined there as a punishment), or for no reason at all, the district court ordered that they be released.

We find no error in the district court's decision to require the defendants to review the reasons why each inmate was put in the Control Unit. Prisoners may, if necessary, seek judicial review of defendants' decision to confine them in the Control Unit by filing suit in the district court, and, if the procedures for confinement prescribed by the district court have not been followed or valid reasons for segregation have not been found, the district court will order their return to the general prison population.

If these procedures have been followed and prisoners are found to have been confined to the Control Unit for valid and administrative reasons, placing prisoners in the Control Unit does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment because the prisoners are not being "punished" for an offense (other than the one for which they have been convicted). It is in this context that we affirm the district court's finding that, when the Control Unit is used as a preventive measure, the decision to place a prisoner there is not a violation of substantive due process or of the Eighth Amendment.

2. Cruel and Unusual Punishment Specific Conditions

As mentioned above, however, conditions of imprisonment may in fact be cruel and unusual punishment even though such conditions are imposed for administrative reasons. The Supreme Court has stated that the constitutional proscription of cruel and unusual punishment imposes three different kinds of limitations upon the treatment of prisoners. The cruel and unusual punishment provision (1) forbids the imposition of certain types of punishment, (2) proscribes punishment which is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime, and (3) imposes some limits on what may be made criminal and punished. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 667, 97 S. Ct. 1401, 1410, 51 L. Ed. 2d 711 (1977). Appellants contend, citing the first two categories above, that the conditions in the Control Unit constitute cruel and unusual punishment because these conditions are in and of themselves impermissible types of punishment and because these conditions constitute punishment which is not in proportion to the severity of the relevant offense. Appellants also claim that the conditions in the Control Unit are cruel and unusual punishment because they are not "premised upon, and limited to the purposes of legitimate penological principles or objectives."*fn2 While we question whether this third objection may be successfully derived from the existing case law,*fn3 we are not persuaded that the conditions in the Control Unit, as modified by the district court, are cruel and unusual punishment under any one of the three analyses suggested.

Prior to the district court's order, prisoners in the Control Unit were locked up for 231/2 hours per day, sometimes in closed front cells called "boxcars." The district court held that these practices constituted cruel and unusual punishment, enjoined the nonconsensual use of boxcar cells and ordered the defendants to provide the inmates with at least seven hours of exercise per week either indoors or outdoors.

According to appellants' brief, each inmate in the Control Unit is confined to a cell measuring 78 by 96 inches (length and breadth) and 100 inches high and may not participate in group activities available to the general prison population.*fn4 Inmates are handcuffed upon leaving their cells (except for showering or recreation), and their access to the library is restricted. Personal property is limited and there are few opportunities to earn money. Prison officials exercise some discretion over what reading materials inmates may receive from outside the prison. "Contact" visits with family and friends are not permitted. Thus prisoners are separated from their visitors by a plexiglass partition and must communicate over telephones. Prisoners are "strip searched" before and after such visits.

Prisoners in the Control Unit find it difficult to communicate with each other because of a glass or metal partition placed three feet in front of most cells. Each cell is equipped with a 40 or 60 watt light bulb, and there is little natural light. Prison officials, not doctors, decide whether to transfer a mentally ill prisoner out of the Control Unit. Prison guards who work on the Control Unit are not specially trained. Inmates are not placed in the Control Unit for definite periods of time, although the district court ordered periodic review of the reasons for their continued confinement. Regular prison food is served to those in the Control Unit, although seconds are not available and the food is sometimes cold.

In analyzing these facts, it is important to note that the Eighth Amendment "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, 78 S. Ct. 590, 598, 2 L. Ed. 2d 630 (1958). In applying the Eighth Amendment to certain types of punishment, courts have generally forbidden "intentionally inflicted excessive or grossly severe punishment . . . or that conditions so harsh as to shock the general conscience . . . ." La Batt v. Twomey, 513 F.2d 641, 648 (7th Cir. 1975); French v. Heyne, 547 F.2d 994, 1002 (7th Cir. 1976). The "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" was disapproved in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173, 96 S. Ct. 2909, 2925, 49 L. Ed. 2d 859 (1976), as well as practices or conditions found to be "barbarous." ...

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