AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities
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Monthly Law Journal Article: Racial Classifications and Inmate Housing Assignments, 2010 (1) AELE Mo. L. J. 301.
An inmate claimed that his free exercise of religion rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq. were violated because he was prohibited from consuming wine during communion, he was required to work on the Sabbath, and he was housed with non-Christian and anti-Christian cellmates, including an active Satanist. He further asserted a claim for deliberate indifference to his medical needs. A federal appeals court found that the plaintiff successfully alleged facts sufficient to go forward on his Sabbath and cell assignment claims, and the fact that he received some medical treatment for some of his various symptoms did not defeat his deliberate indifference claim when he alleged that some symptoms were not treated at all. The appeals court reversed the summary dismissal of the wine communion claim, as the plaintiff did not have the opportunity to submit a brief on whether the wine ban substantially burdened the exercise of his religion and the record did not show that the total ban on wine consumption during communion was the least restrictive means of furthering the prison's asserted security interest. Jehovah v. Clarke, #13-7529, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 11818 (4th Cir.).
A California prison's refusal to accommodate an Aryan Christian Odinist prisoner's request that he be classified an ineligible to be housed with a cellmate of a different race did not violate his religious free exercise rights under either the First Amendment or the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq. Denying a religious exemption to the prison's classification scheme was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest in complying with constitutional restrictions on racial segregation. Walker v. Beard, #12-17460, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 10255 (9th Cir.).
A federal appeals court rejected a prisoner's argument that he had a right, under the Ninth Amendment, to choose his own cellmate. Additionally, the plaintiff prisoner acknowledged that he had subsequently been placed with an acceptable cellmate. Murray v. Bledsoe, #10-4397, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 11702 (3rd Cir.).
Editor's Note: Two previous cases holding that prisoners have no constitutional right to choose their cellmates are Harris v. Greer, #83-2575, 750 F.2d 617 (7th Cir.1984); and Cole v. Benson, #85-1051, 760 F.2d 226 (8th Cir.1985) (per curiam)
A California inmate sued prison officials who allegedly assigned him a cellmate based on race. At the time this occurred, however, the court ruled, it was not yet clearly established that a policy of considering race in making such cell assignments was a violation of equal protection. Instead, it was regarded as "undoubtedly a legitimate penological interest" related to prison security, a concept later overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in Johnson v. California, #03-636, 543 U.S. 499 (2005) (holding strict scrutiny should be applied to such racial classifications). Prison officials were therefore entitled to qualified immunity from liability. The court rejected the argument that various international treaties prohibiting racial segregation were enough so that prison officials should have known their policy was unlawful, noting that such treaties did not provide for an individual cause of action for violations. The prisoner was also not entitled to injunctive relief, as the prison has stopped using race as a factor in housing prisoners, and the plaintiff has been transferred to a dormitory facility. Mayweathers v. Woodford, #08-56835, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 17464 (Unpub. 9th Cir.).
The use of race as a factor in assigning cellmates on the basis of concern about gang and racial violence was supported by legitimate safety and security interests. The plaintiff prisoner failed to show that prison employees should have known that their use of race in this manner was unlawful under international treaties or the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mayweathers v. Hickman, Case No. 05cv0713, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 85154 (S.D. Ca.).
Housing a Muslim prisoner in a cell with a non-Muslim did not constitute a "substantial burden" to his exercise of his religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000 cc-1 or the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, 51 Okl. St. Ann. Sec. 253. Prisoner could pray several times during the day outside his cell and having to pray, once a day, while locked down with this cellmate only had an "incidental" effect on his practice of his religion. Policy of randomly assigning cellmates was reasonably related to a legitimate penological objective of preventing racial or religious discrimination in cell assignments. Steele v. Guilfeyle, No. 97,997, 76 P.3d 99 (Okla. Civ. App. Div. 1 2003). [N/R]
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