On appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, U.S.D.C. No. 76-743.
Once more, and undoubtedly not for the last time, we are presented with an appeal by officials of Allegheny County from an order of the district court in the thirteen-year-old dispute over unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Allegheny County Jail. To the extent that the order appealed from, dated December 20, 1988, is appealable, we will affirm.
The Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was erected in 1886. At the time of its construction the population of the County was approximately 450,000. (The U.S. Census reported 355,869 residents in 1880 and 551,959 in 1890). The 1983 population was 1,385,558. In 1886 the County had six Common Pleas Judges; now forty-five judges sit there. The jail was designed, in connection with the county courthouse, by the great architect Henry Hobson Richardson. In 1976 the jail was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its recognition as an historic landmark, however, coincided with the commencement of this class action on behalf of past, present, and future inmates, for in 1976 a complaint was filed alleging that conditions in Richardson's grim fortress violated their Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
On January 4, 1978, after a six-week trial, the district court held that conditions in the jail violated the Constitution in many respects. Owens-El v. Robinson, 457 F. Supp. 984 (W.D.Pa. 1978). The county defendants did not appeal. The class representatives did, however, and this court remanded for consideration of changes in the decree necessary to upgrade the psychological treatment facilities in the jail to the constitutional minimum. Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754 (3d Cir. 1979).
On remand, after a five-week trial, the district court found that the level of care for mentally ill inmates amounted to deliberate and unconstitutional indifference. The court also found that the county officials were not in full compliance with the October 11, 1978 decree. The court ordered such compliance as well as additional steps to bring treatment of the mentally ill inmates up to constitutional minimum standards. Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 487 F. Supp. 638 (W.D.Pa. 1980). No appeal was taken from this judgment.
During the seventies overcrowding in the jail had not become an issue, and was not addressed in the initial class action. The average daily inmate population in 1975 was only 429, and the court in 1978 observed in passing that "overcrowding of the institution is not a problem." Owens-El v. Robinson, 442 F. Supp. 1368, 1376 (W.D.Pa. 1978). By April of 1983, however, the average daily population had risen to 690, and as a consequence jail conditions seriously deteriorated. That month the class representatives obtained an order directing the county officials to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for non-compliance with the court's prior orders, and moved for additional relief. On May 25, 1983, after a six-day hearing, the district court found that the maximum constitutional capacity of the facility was 475-500 males in the main unit, 63 males in the receiving unit, and 38 females in the female section -- an upper limit of 575-600. The court found 705 inmates in the jail on the day he toured it, and found:
The jail is now dangerously overcrowded. Fires and prisoner unrest are an ever-present danger in any penal setting. Here they could result in disaster. The Allegheny County Jail is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 565 F. Supp. 1278, 1281 (W.D.Pa. 1983). (emphasis in original). By order of May 25, 1983 the court ordered phased reductions of the jail population as follows:
a. After July 1, 1983, there shall be no more than 650 male and 60 female inmates housed in the jail;
b. After August 15, there shall be no more than 600 male and 50 female inmates housed in the jail;
c. After October 1, 1983 there shall be no more than 550 male and 40 female inmates housed in the jail;
d. After January 1, 1984 there shall be no more than 500 male and 30 female inmates housed in the jail.
No appeal was taken from the May 25, 1983 order.
By October 20, 1983 it was clear that the County authorities were not meeting the population cap, and the court addressed their August 4 and September 30 motions for upward modification. Finding that the dangerously overcrowded conditions in the jail were just as serious as on May 25, 1983, the court ordered the release of those prisoners held in the lowest amount of bail until the population limits of the May 25 order were met. The court made it clear that the release remedy was a temporary expedient, noting:
It is the duty of the County to house prisoners, and any release of prisoners as a result of this order should be recognized as final, albeit temporary, effort to ameliorate the situation, not as a solution to the problem.
Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 573 F. Supp. 454, 457 (W.D.Pa. 1983). No appeal was taken from the October 20, 1983 order.
By late December 1983, 14 males and 12 females had been released, and it became clear to the district court that no permanent solution was in the offing. To provide an incentive for such a solution the court ordered "that after February 15, 1984, a sanction of $5,000 against the defendants for each prisoner released under the court's order of October 20, 1983" would be assessed. Thereafter the court denied the request of the County authorities to increase the population cap as well as a request to house some inmates temporarily in a trailer within the jail compound. Finding heating problems, fire hazards, and lack of constitutionally required support services the court reaffirmed the population caps in the October 20, 1983 order. The County authorities appealed from the denial of their request to raise the population caps, and from the $5,000 sanction order.
This court on January 29, 1985 affirmed the order reconfirming the population caps. We reluctantly vacated the contempt sanctions, reasoning that the County officials could not be held in contempt for failure to develop substitute jail facilities because the court's previous orders were not sufficiently explicit to satisfy Fed. R.Civ.P. 65(d). Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 754 F.2d 120, 127-30 (3d Cir. 1985). We made it clear, however, that the district court had the power to order production of such a plan, observing:
Orders to responsible public officials to prepare and submit plans for remedying constitutional violations are not uncommon. Such orders often issue in the school desegregation context.
Similarly, in the prisoner contexts the courts have authority to order local officials to take costly measures to cure constitutional violations.
754 F.2d at 128 n. 5 (citations omitted).
On remand the district court after a hearing on February 20, 1985 ordered the county officials "to appraise the court as to . . . plans for alternate facilities in order to prevent the further release of prisoner." The court indicated that if no plan is presented, the court will order further appropriate action at that time." Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 612 F. Supp. 874, 877 (W.D.Pa. 1985). A week later, the court after a hearing determined that although the County was then in compliance with the cap, "the measures taken by the County continued to be, in essence, a stopgap approach to a serious and continuing problem." Id. at 877-78. The court ordered that the County have adequate facilities in place by May 6, 1985 or be subject to a $5,000 contempt fine for each prisoner released. When ...