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LOWER FEDERAL COURTS AS CONSTITUTION-MAKERS - THE CASE OF PRISON CONDITIONS

NCJ Number
60500
Journal
American Journal of Criminal Law Volume: 7 Issue: 2 Dated: (JULY 1979) Pages: 119-140
Author(s)
D R FAIR
Date Published
1979
Length
22 pages
Annotation
LOWER FEDERAL COURTS HAVE USED FIVE TESTS TO DETERMINE IF PRISON CONDITIONS ARE CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT. THE BALANCE TEST COMBINED WITH THE TOTALITY OF CONDITIONS TEST PROVIDE THE MOST USEFUL JUDICIAL TOOLS.
Abstract
LOWER FEDERAL COURTS ARE THE MAJOR CONSTITUTION MAKERS IN THE FIELD OF PRISON CONDITIONS. THE U.S. SUPREME COURT HAS ISSUED ONLY ONE PURELY EIGHTH AMENDMENT DECISION, ESTELLE V. GAMBLE (1976), AND HAS ADDRESSED THE ISSUE IN TWO FIRST AMENDMENT CASES, PELL V. PROCUNIER (1974) AND PUGH V. LOCKE (1976). FEDERAL DISTRICT AND CIRCUIT COURTS HAVE DECIDED CASES INVOLVING ADULT PRISONS IN 29 JURISDICTIONS, INCLUDING 10 STATES, 13 COUNTIES, 4 CITIES, AND 2 TERRITORIES. THESE LOWER COURTS HAVE USED FIVE TESTS TO DETERMINE WHETHER PRISON CONDITIONS CONSTITUTE 'CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT.' THESE ARE THE 'SHOCK TO THE CONSCIENCE' TEST, THE 'TOTALITY OF CIRCUMSTANCES' TEST, THE 'BALANCE' TEST, 'EVOLVING STANDARDS OF DECENCY,' AND THE 'LEAST RESTRICTIVE MEANS' TEST. THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE MEANS STANDARD APPLIES TO PRETRIAL DETENTION IN WHICH THE DEFENDANT IS CONSIDERED AN INNOCENT PERSON. IT SPECIFIES THAT THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE MEANS SHOULD BE USED TO ENSURE COURT APPEARANCE. THE TOTALITY OF CIRCUMSTANCES TEST ALONE IS VAGUE BUT IS AN EFFECTIVE JUDICIAL TOOL WHEN COMBINED WITH THE BALANCE TEST, WHICH SPECIFIES THAT THE PUNISHMENT SHOULD NOT BE EXCESSIVE FOR THE CRIME. THESE TESTS TOGETHER CAN BE USED FOR GROUPS OF PERSONS AS WELL AS INDIVIDUAL PRISONERS. THE CONSCIENCE TEST AND THE EVOLVING STANDARDS OF DECENCY TEST ARE TOO VAGUE TO BE WIDELY USED WITHOUT CHALLENGE. TABLES SUMMARIZE BOTH FEDERAL DISTRICT AND CIRCUIT COURT PRISON CONDITION CASES TOGETHER WITH THE TEST USED. A LIST OF THE CASES ANALYZED IS APPENDED. (GLR)