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Smith v. Fairman

decided: October 5, 1982.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Danville Division. No. 80 C 2076 -- Harold A. Baker, Judge.

Bauer and Wood, Circuit Judges, and Campbell,*fn* Senior District Judge.

Author: Bauer

BAUER, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellee Johnny Smith brought this class action on behalf of himself and other similarly situated inmates incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center (Pontiac), a maximum security state penitentiary located in Pontiac, Illinois. Smith challenged the confinement conditions at Pontiac, alleging that the institutional practice of housing two prisoners in a single cell violated the eighth amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The district court agreed and ultimately ordered wide-ranging relief, including the elimination of double occupancy cells at Pontiac. Defendants-appellants, various officers of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), now appeal. We reverse.


The district court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are set out in its opinion. Smith v. Fairman, 528 F. Supp. 186 (C.D. Ill. 1981). As the trial court noted, Pontiac houses inmates convicted of serious crimes involving violence and threat to human life, such as murder, armed robbery and rape. More than 1600 such prisoners were confined in the institution at the time this cause was tried, well over the 1871 facility's original capacity of 1200 persons. Approximately 56% of the prisoner population was double celled; the remaining inmates were single celled for segregation or other reasons.

Judge Baker inspected and measured the cells at Pontiac. He found that the two-man cells in the West cellhouse, which were 64.5 square feet in size, "appeared to be fairly clean and neat and the individual cells showed good housekeeping practices." 528 F. Supp. at 188. The 55.3 square-foot double cells in the South cellhouse were also neat and clean. The North cellhouse single units, which measured 55.5 square feet, were in somewhat poorer condition. The district court thought this situation probably was attributable to the lower concern for cleanliness exhibited by North cellhouse prisoners, most or all of whom were placed there for disciplinary or protective custody purposes.

The district court also described the living amenities in the West cellhouse units. For example, each double cell had a sink, a sanitary stool, two beds, and a chest of drawers or boxes for clothing and personal belongings. Books, records, and electronic entertainment equipment filled many cells, leaving as little as nine square feet for standing room in some cases. 528 F. Supp. at 188. We gather that the same or similar items crowded the double and single units in the South and North cellhouses, respectively.

The small size of the double cells and the clutter within them made life uncomfortable for the inmates. Their discomfort was exacerbated by the long hours prisoners spent in their cells, in some instances, up to twenty hours a day. Many prisoners worked or attended school during the week, but a large segment of the population did not enjoy such diversions. Prisoners in segregation spent as much as twenty-three hours a day in their cells.

In addition to these findings, Judge Baker noted certain testimony by inmates and the court-appointed expert, Doctor Steven Christianson, to the effect that Pontiac's double cells were cramped, dimly lit, poorly ventilated, and occasionally without hot tap water. 528 F. Supp. at 189. Doctor Christianson, however, was unfamiliar with the ventilation system and thus unaware that the system could have been shut off which might have explained the seemingly substandard ventilation. Tr. Vol. I at 94.

Apparently cell airflow also was obstructed when prisoners covered their vents to block roaches. In any event, airflow was hardly optimal because a "borderline stench" pervaded the West and South cellhouses due to the sheer size of the confined population. 528 F. Supp. at 194. The presence of vermin, however, was disputed by correctional expert C. Paul Phelps. He stated that the units in the West and South cellhouses were unusually clean and that absent such cleanliness insects and rodents would abound because of the large quantity of food prisoners kept in their cells. Phelps believed no vermin problem existed based on the manner in which inmates stored food and their failure to mention such pests. Tr. Vol. VI at 1065-66.

Although numerous experts and prisoners testified that crowding was causing tension among the prisoners, the topic of institutional safety was barely discussed in the lower court's opinion, except for a few references to prisoners' remarks that they felt unsafe or were afraid of homosexual assaults. In contrast, the record testimony of Pontiac Warden James W. Fairman demonstrated that the total number of incidents of physical violence, force, or assault had been reduced by nearly 50% since his administration took office in 1978. His figures -- unchallenged on cross-examination -- supported his conclusions. Warden Fairman also testified that no inmate had killed another inmate during his two year tenure, nor had any guards been killed or seriously injured by inmates during that period. Tr. Vol. VII at 1311-14.

Finally, the district court's opinion failed to note that Pontiac inmates received satisfactory medical attention and nutritious food. A licensed physician staffed the institution twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Tr. Vol. III at 542. Similarly, Pontiac employed a full time dentist, dental assistants, a full time x-ray technician, and a full time pharmacist to meet the inmates' health needs. Id. The kitchen and dining facilities were considered clean, Tr. Vol. VI at ...

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