409 U.S. 968 (1972)

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U.S. Supreme Court

SELLARS v. BETO , 409 U.S. 968 (1972)

409 U.S. 968

Calvin SELLARS and Fred Arispe Cruz, etc. v. George J. BETO, Director, Texas Department of Corrections.
No. 71-6789.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 24, 1972

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The motion of The National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union et al. for leave to file a brief, as amici curiae, is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, with whom Mr. Justice BRENNAN and Mr. Justice MARSHALL concur, dissenting.

I vote to hear this case because it raises substantial questions of law in the area of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Petitioners are inmates of the Texas Department of Corrections (T. D. C.). They brought a class action under 42 U.S.C.A. 1983, challenging the constitutionality of: (1) a T. D. C. regulation barring all inmate assistance in preparation of legal work. (2) the primitive conditions of the solitary confinement as administered by the T. D. C. The District Court denied relief, Novak v. Beto, 320 F.Supp. 1206 (SD Tex.1970). On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously reversed as to the prohibition on prisoners' legal assistance, holding the State had not met its burden of providing alternatives to assure access to the courts as required by Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483 (1969). A divided Court affirmed the constitutionality of the conditions of solitary confinement. Novak v. Beto, 453 F.2d 661 (CA5 1971). A motion for a rehearing and rehearing en banc was denied March 8, 1972, six judges dissenting. Novak v. Beto, 456 F.2d 1303 (CA5 1972). If we are to believe the facts as stated by petitioner, and for purposes of appeal we must, a prisoner placed in solitary confinement in Texas will find himself in a shockingly primitive condition.

Page 409 U.S. 968 , 969

The cell is kept in complete darkness 24 hours a day. A barred iron gate backed up by a wooden door blocks all light and prevents any human contact with those in the hall. [Footnote 1] Within this black interior is a combination toilet-water basin and a steel bunk. The bunk has no mattress although the prisoner is given a blanket. The cell is otherwise bare. The inmate is fed on a bread and water diet with one full meal every 72 hours. 2 He is clothed only by a cloth gown. Aside from those conditions, which were considered inhumane at the time of Charles Dickens, the prisoner has no opportunity to exercise; he is not permitted correspondence with family, friends or lawyer; no visits are allowed and he is allowed no reading material of any kind.

The prisoner is not seen by a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor before, during or after confinement to solitary. And all deprivations of solitary confinement apply uniformly regardless of the individual's background or criminal record of offense for which he is being punished.

A prisoner can be kept so confined for 15 days and reconfined after a two-day respite. Such practices as above described exist in all of Texas' 14 correctional facilities. [409 U.S. 968 , 970]

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