Cir. 1980) ("Library books ... cannot provide access to the courts for those persons who ... are illiterate." The issue under Bounds is meaningful access); Walters v. Thompson, supra.
14. Defendants argue that the Seventh Circuit has nevertheless upheld the constitutionality of a runner system alone under Bounds, citing Caldwell v. Miller, 790 F.2d 589 (7th Cir. 1986), and Campbell v. Miller, 787 F.2d 217 (7th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1019, 107 S. Ct. 673, 93 L. Ed. 2d 724 (1986). Neither opinion so holds, as the Seventh Circuit clearly stated in DeMallory v. Cullen, supra, 855 F.2d at 447.
Each involved the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. At the time, Marion was the highest level maximum security prison in the federal system. For security reasons, officials at Marion instituted a two-part system of access to legal materials. The system relied in part on a runner system, in which an inmate could request specific materials which would be delivered to his cell. But the inmates also had direct access to a small library, containing many reference materials, including the UNITED STATES CODE ANNOTATED, the CRIMINAL LAW REPORTER, and numerous prisoners' rights manuals, as well as other books. See Appendix to Caldwell v. Miller, supra, 790 F.2d at 610-11. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the combination of a direct access limited library and supplemental access to any specific materials not available in the direct access library was constitutional under the facts of those cases. Neither case presented an issue as to whether the inmates involved could read or understand the materials.
15. More recently, the Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of a case alleging denial of access to the courts. See Alston v. DeBruyn, supra, 13 F.3d 1036. In holding that the district court had erred in implying "that the constitutional requirement is met whenever an inmate is given any time in a law library," the Seventh Circuit emphasized that the "touchstone is 'meaningful' access, not just access." Alston v. DeBruyn, supra, 13 F.3d at 1041 (quoting from Bounds v. Smith, supra, 430 U.S. at 823).
16. Applying these principles to the present case, I conclude that the system of inmate assistance utilized by the Illinois Department of Corrections for inmates in segregation at Menard, Pontiac and Joliet maximum security prisons cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. The evidence showed that segregation inmates are dependent on law clerks, who essentially act as runners in each of these prisons.
17. At Joliet, there are between 90 and 100 inmates in segregation at any time. They are not allowed to go into the library. One to three law clerks, a paralegal, and a librarian serve the 1,300 inmates at Joliet, including the inmates in segregation.
During the trial, both the librarian and paralegal quit. The law clerks are not required to have, and at least one did not have, any legal training at the time they begin their jobs. The law clerk acts as a runner for inmates in segregation, having no time to do more than fill requests for legal materials, and at times insufficient time to even take all requests. There was also evidence that noise would prevent inmates from discussing problems with law clerks if they wanted to attempt to get any legal advice, and that guards would be standing nearby.
18. In addition, the library at Joliet also appears to be inadequately maintained in that missing volumes are replaced only once a year. DOC officials testified that regularly missing volumes included the Illinois Criminal Code and the volume containing 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Inmates may well be responsible for taking the missing volumes, although there was no evidence to that effect and it is possible that inmates are not responsible. At any rate, each plaintiff's right of access to the courts is individual, and therefore a plaintiff cannot be prevented access by the theft, if it occurs, of others. I conclude that defendants' efforts to make available substitute materials
or to reorder materials have not been shown to be adequate to ensure plaintiffs' reasonable access to the courts.
19. The library has other problems. Until the eve of trial, the library did not even keep a list of forms available to prisoners. Although a list of available forms was eventually developed, inmates in segregation may not receive the list.
20. The problems of access for inmates in segregation at Pontiac are equally severe. Until the even of trial of this case, Pontiac's nearly 2,000 inmates were served by three or four inmate law clerks and a paralegal who worked part of the time in another prison. Although segregation inmates are not allowed in the library, the DOC maintained no documented schedule showing visits to segregation by law clerks until shortly before trial. The law clerks and paralegal agreed that they were unable even to fill legal requests for everyone who had requests for books and materials; they did not have time to provide additional assistance for those in need. The paralegal testified that the number of inmate law clerks was insufficient and that he had repeatedly sought to hire more clerks. While the law clerks had received training, the only teacher who testified said that the clerks did not understand the course and would be unable to provide assistance in crucial areas. In addition, there was evidence that officials harassed law clerks in an attempt to discourage them from giving even the little help they could give.
21. Pontiac's library is also deficient in that it does not contain an annotated version of 42 U.S.C. Considering that the vast majority of inmate lawsuits -- at least those in federal court -- are filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a copy of the statute that includes case citations would appear to be a basic research tool.
22. At Menard, there was only one law clerk to serve between 270 and 300 inmates in segregation at the time this case went to trial, despite the fact that six years had elapsed between the time Judge Moran found that the DOC's practices at Menard violated plaintiffs' rights to access to the courts and the time of trial. Although one additional law clerk was assigned to segregation at the time of trial, there were only five law clerks to serve the entire prison population,
and the DOC itself agreed that there needed to be between 10 and 20 clerks. The law clerk or clerks assigned to segregation visited segregation but twice a week and took orders for materials. Although the clerks were ostensibly under the supervision of a paralegal, there was no paralegal for nearly eight months in the year before trial. The only paralegal hired subsequently quit during trial and was not replaced for several months. At any rate, the paralegal did not know what the law clerks were doing, and he understood that he could not give legal advice, conduct research or prepare pleadings. He also did not know basic information about various forms. Although inmates were allowed to go to study cages within the library, an inmate might be able to use a case for only two hours in a period of weeks unless he had a documented deadline. Time in the study cages was limited to two-hour segments (which might be cut short) even for those with documented deadlines, a time too short to engage in much research.
Until a new directive was issued at the end of trial, the official written policy forbade clerks from conducting research and drafting pleadings. In general, the clerks refrained from giving such assistance. Sometimes clerks did do research and draft pleadings. However, they were not supervised when doing so, and there was evidence that inmates were at times charged for the work. Furthermore, by the end of the trial, there were only three law clerks who regularly dealt with segregation inmates, and two of those had no legal training. (The third finished the course offered by defendants during trial.) Clearly, the number of law clerks was insufficient to enable the clerks to provide assistance beyond providing specific materials even if Menard had a program to provide assistance or supervision.
23. Defendants did not provide convincing evidence that the law clerks at any of these facilities were "capable of helping any inmate draft a legal document." Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559, 584 n.29 (10th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1041, 101 S. Ct. 1759, 68 L. Ed. 2d 239 (1981). To the contrary, the evidence showed that law clerks frequently were assigned to assist inmates in segregation although they had never had legal training, that paralegals and librarians never reviewed documents drafted by the law clerks (and in some cases did not have the training to provide such review), and that even when law clerks took courses, their own teachers believed they could not understand the material.
24. At each of these institutions, the problems are compounded for nearly one third of the inmates by the fact that they are illiterate, i.e., unable to read beyond the sixth grade level, a level that would not enable them to read or understand even the simplest legal material according to the expert testimony at trial.
Since one half of the inmates read at the eighth grade level or lower, the number who are unable to understand the material necessary to prepare or file a pleading sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss is probably much greater than one third of the inmates. None of these institutions maintain any procedure to ensure that such inmates will be provided with the assistance they need to file a legally sufficient complaint or petition in court. These inmates do not have meaningful access to the courts.
Dwight Correctional Center
25. Dwight differs from the institutions discussed above not only in the fact that it houses female prisoners but also in its size. There are 662 prisoners at Dwight -- not all of them maximum security -- and of these there are between 29 and 48 inmates in segregation at one time. Unlike the segregation inmates at the men's prisons, those in segregation at Dwight generally remain there for short periods, although there are and have been prisoners in segregation for periods in excess of one year. Like those at the men's institutions, inmates in segregation at Dwight are not allowed access to a library. There are, however, two law clerks who go to segregation three times a week. They remain as long as they are needed and they provide substantive help. Furthermore, they have received legal training, and those who testified appeared to be better educated and have greater legal knowledge than the law clerks and some of the lay paralegals at the men's institutions.
26. In addition, the paralegal who worked at Dwight at the time the trial began appeared to provide real supervision to law clerks, reviewing their work, assisting them, and helping inmates directly. Bounds requires that inmate law clerks receive substantive supervision. I conclude that, at least at the time the trial began, law clerks at Dwight were receiving such supervision. The evidence with respect to the paralegal who replaced Ms. Nicklies is more tentative. She had been working at Dwight for too short a time to allow anyone to draw conclusions about her supervision and assistance to law clerks and inmates once she learned her job. It is also possible that she is no longer working at Dwight. Thus, based on the evidence before me, I conclude that Dwight has provided inmates with access to the courts as required by Bounds. However, this conclusion is necessarily limited to the conditions existing at the time of trial.
27. Dwight is not a perfect model for access to the courts. The fact that inmates in segregation are receiving access to the courts did not appear to be the result of institutional procedures, but was instead the result of better educated clerks, the small number of women in segregation, the small number of women in segregation over a lengthy period of time, and a paralegal who tried earnestly to do her job. Dwight also has problems that have not been addressed. In particular, plaintiffs' evidence showed that some legal forms used at Dwight for child custody matters might actually prejudice an inmate. However, the access to courts required by Bounds does not extend beyond "constitutional rights and other civil rights actions related to [inmates'] incarceration." Knop v. Johnson, supra, 977 F.2d at 1009. Accordingly, while the evidence indicated that many of the legal problems of interest to women at Dwight concerned their children, they have no constitutional right to assistance from defendants in this area.
28. Plaintiffs have raised other claims that can be discussed briefly and that may alleviate issues otherwise likely to arise in devising an appropriate remedy in this case. First, prisons are not required to provide inmates with typewriters. See, e.g., Taylor v. Coughlin, 29 F.3d 39 (2d Cir. 1994). Second, although a former librarian testified in this case that paralegals and other civilian personnel would have greater independence if they were not on defendants' payroll, defendants are not required to take this step. See, e.g., Knop v. Johnson, supra, 977 F.2d at 1008.
The parties agreed at trial that the question of remedy would be addressed separately if I found that any of the institutions did not meet the requirements of Bounds. For that purpose, counsel for the parties shall meet and attempt to agree on a special master to oversee a proposed plan. Together with the special master, counsel shall attempt to agree on a plan for each of the institutions that will bring these institutions into compliance with Bounds as soon as possible. If the parties cannot agree, the special master shall submit a plan, and counsel for either side may submit alternative plans.
Elaine E. Bucklo
United States District Judge
Dated: August 28, 1995
Minute Order Form
Enter Memorandum Opinion, and Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.