Rhodes v. Chapman
452 U.S. 337 (1981)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981)

Rhodes v. Chapman

No. 80-332

Argued March 2, 1981

Decided June 15, 1981

452 U.S. 337




Respondents, who were housed in the same cell in an Ohio maximum security prison, brought a class action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner state officials, alleging that "double celling" violated the Constitution and seeking injunctive relief. Despite its generally favorable findings of fact, the District Court concluded that the double celling was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, as made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. This conclusion was based on five considerations: (1) inmates at the prison were serving long-terms of imprisonment; (2) the prison housed 38% more inmates than its "design capacity"; (3) the recommendation of several studies that each inmate have at least 555 square feet of living quarters, as opposed to the 63 square feet shared by the double celled inmates; (4) the suggestion that double celled inmates spend most of their time in their cells with their cellmates; and (5) the fact that double celling at the prison was not a temporary condition. The Court of Appeals affirmed .

Held: The double celling in question is not cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 452 U. S. 344-352.

(a) Conditions of confinement, as constituting the punishment at issue, must not involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, nor may they be grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime warranting imprisonment. But conditions that cannot be said to be cruel and unusual under contemporary standards are not unconstitutional. To the extent such conditions are restrictive and even harsh, they are part of the penalty that criminals pay for their offenses against society. Pp. 452 U. S. 345-347.

(b) In view of the District Court's findings of fact, virtually every one of which tends to refute respondents' claim, its conclusion that double celling at the prison constituted cruel and unusual punishment is insupportable. Pp. 452 U. S. 347-348.

(c) The five considerations on which the District Court relied are

Page 452 U. S. 338

insufficient to support its constitutional conclusion. Such considerations properly are weighed by the legislature and prison administration, rather than by a court. They fall far short, in themselves, of proving cruel and unusual punishment, absent evidence that double celling under the circumstances either inflicts unnecessary or wanton pain or is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime warranting imprisonment. Pp. 452 U. S. 348-350.

(d) In discharging their oversight responsibility to determine whether prison conditions amount to cruel and unusual punishment, courts cannot assume that state legislatures and prison officials are insensitive to the requirements of the Constitution or to the sociological problems of how best to achieve the goals of the penal function in the criminal justice system. Pp. 452 U. S. 351-352.

624 F.2d 1099, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BLACKMUN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 452 U. S. 352. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 452 U. S. 368. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 452 U. S. 369.

Page 452 U. S. 339

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether the housing of two inmates in a single cell at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.


Respondents Kelly Chapman and Richard Jaworski are inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF), maximum security state prison in Lucasville, Ohio. They were housed in the same cell when they brought this action in the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on

Page 452 U. S. 340

behalf of themselves and all inmates similarly situated at SOCF. Asserting a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, they contended that "double celling" at SOCF violated the Constitution. The gravamen of their complaint was that double celling confined cellmates too closely. It also was blamed for overcrowding at SOCF, said to have overwhelmed the prison's facilities and staff. [Footnote 1] As relief, respondents sought an injunction barring petitioners, who are Ohio officials responsible for the administration of SOCF, from housing more than one inmate in a cell, except as a temporary measure.

The District Court made extensive findings of fact about SOCF on the basis of evidence presented at trial and the court's own observations during an inspection that it conducted without advance notice. 434 F.Supp. 1007 (1977). These findings describe the physical plant, inmate population, and effects of double celling. Neither party contends that these findings are erroneous.

SOCF was built in the early 1970's. In addition to 1,620 cells, it has gymnasiums, workshops, schoolrooms, "dayrooms," two chapels, a hospital ward, commissary, barbershop, and library. [Footnote 2] Outdoors, SOCF has a recreation field, visitation

Page 452 U. S. 341

area, and garden. The District Court described this physical plant as "unquestionably a top-flight, first-class facility." Id. at 1009.

Each cell at SOCF measures approximately 63 square feet. Each contains a bed measuring 36 by 80 inches, a cabinet-type night stand, a wall-mounted sink with hot and cold running water, and a toilet that the inmate can flush from inside the cell. Cells housing two inmates have a two-tiered bunk bed. Every cell has a heating and air circulation vent near the ceiling, and 96% of the cells have a window that inmates can open and close. All of the cells have a cabinet, shelf, and radio built into one of the walls, and in all of the cells one wall consists of bars through which the inmates can be seen.

The "dayrooms" are located adjacent to the cellblocks, and are open to inmates between 6:30 a. m. and 9:30 p. m. According to the District Court,

"[t]he day rooms are in a sense part of the cells, and they are designed to furnish that type of recreation or occupation which an ordinary citizen would seek in his living room or den."

Id. at 1012. Each dayroom contains a wall-mounted television, card tables, and chairs. Inmates can pass between their cells and the dayrooms during a 10-minute period each hour, on the hour, when the doors to the dayrooms and cells are opened.

As to the inmate population, the District Court found that SOCF began receiving inmates in late 1972 and double celling them in 1975 because of an increase in Ohio's statewide prison population. At the time of trial, SOCF housed 2,300 inmates, 67% of whom were serving life or other long-term sentences for first-degree felonies. Approximately 1,400 inmates were double celled. Of these, about 75% had the choice of spending much of their waking hours outside their cells, in the dayrooms, school, workshops, library, visits, meals, or showers. The other double celled inmates spent

Page 452 U. S. 342

more time locked in their cells because of a restrictive classification. [Footnote 3]

The remaining findings by the District Court addressed respondents' allegation that overcrowding created by double celling overwhelmed SOCF's facilities and staff. The food was "adequate in every respect," and respondents adduced no evidence "whatsoever that prisoners have been underfed or that the food facilities have been taxed by the prison population." Id. at 1014. The air ventilation system was adequate, the cells were substantially free of offensive odor, the temperature in the cellblocks was well controlled, and the noise in the cellblocks was not excessive. Double celling had not reduced significantly the availability of space in the dayrooms or visitation facilities, [Footnote 4] nor had it rendered inadequate the resources of the library or schoolrooms. [Footnote 5] Although there were isolated incidents of failure to provide medical or dental care, there was no evidence of indifference by the SOCF staff to inmates' medical or dental needs. [Footnote 6] As to violence, the court found that the number of acts of violence at

Page 452 U. S. 343

SOCF had increased with the prison population, but only in proportion to the increase in population. Respondents failed to produce evidence establishing that double celling itself caused greater violence, and the ratio of guards to inmates at SOCF satisfied the standard of acceptability offered by respondents' expert witness. Finally, the court did find that the SOCF administration, faced with more inmates than jobs, had "water[ed] down" jobs by assigning more inmates to each job than necessary and by reducing the number of hours that each inmate worked, id. at 1015; it also found that SOCF had not increased its staff of psychiatrists and social workers since double celling had begun.

Despite these generally favorable findings, the District Court concluded that double celling at SOCF was cruel and unusual punishment. The court rested its conclusion on five considerations. One, inmates at SOCF are serving long-terms of imprisonment. In the court's view, that fact "can only accent[uate] the problems of close confinement and overcrowding." Id. at 1020. Two, SOCF housed 38% more inmates at the time of trial than its "design capacity." In reference to this, the court asserted: "Overcrowding necessarily involves excess limitation of general movement, as well as physical and mental injury from long exposure." Ibid. Three, the court accepted as contemporary standards of decency several studies recommending that each person in an institution have at least 50-55 square feet of living quarters. [Footnote 7] In contrast, double celled inmates at SOCF share 63 square feet. Four, the court asserted that, "[a]t the best, a prisoner who is double celled will spend most of his time in the cell

Page 452 U. S. 344

with his cellmate." [Footnote 8] Id. at 1021. Five, SOCF has made double celling a practice; it is not a temporary condition. [Footnote 9]

On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, petitioners argued that the District Court's conclusion must be read, in light of its findings, as holding that double celling is per se unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals disagreed; it viewed the District Court's opinion as holding only that double celling is cruel and unusual punishment under the circumstances at SOCF. It affirmed, without further opinion, on the ground that the District Court's findings were not clearly erroneous, its conclusions of law were "permissible from the findings," and its remedy was a reasonable response to the violations found. [Footnote 10]

We granted the petition for certiorari because of the importance of the question to prison administration. 449 U.S. 951 (1980). We now reverse.


We consider here for the first time the limitation that the Eighth Amendment, which is applicable to the States through

Page 452 U. S. 345

the Fourteenth Amendment, Robinson v. California,370 U. S. 660 (1962), imposes upon the conditions in which a State may confine those convicted of crimes. It is unquestioned that "[c]onfinement in a prison . . . is a form of punishment subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment standards." Hutto v. Finney,437 U. S. 678, 437 U. S. 685 (1978); see Ingraham v. Wright,430 U. S. 651, 430 U. S. 669 (1977); cf. Bell v. Wolfish,441 U. S. 520 (1979). But, until this case, we have not considered a disputed contention that the conditions of confinement at a particular prison constituted cruel and unusual punishment. [Footnote 11] Nor have we had an occasion to consider specifically the principles relevant to assessing claims that conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment. We look, first, to the Eighth Amendment precedents for the general principles that are relevant to a State's authority to impose punishment for criminal conduct.


The Eighth Amendment, in only three words, imposes the constitutional limitation upon punishments: they cannot be "cruel and unusual." The Court has interpreted these words "in a flexible and dynamic manner," Gregg v. Georgia,428 U. S. 153, 428 U. S. 171 (1976) (joint opinion), and has extended the Amendment's reach beyond the barbarous physical punishments at issue in the Court's earliest cases. 99 U. S. S. 346

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