Case: Armstrong v. Bensinger

1:71-02144 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

Filed Date: Sept. 2, 1971

Closed Date: May 16, 1973

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Case Summary

This is a class action brought by people held in the Special Program Unit (SPU) at Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. The SPU was part of a trend of “behavior modification units'' designed to control activists and those considered disruptive to the prison. The case arose out of a large fight on June 25, 1971 between 15 guards and people incarcerated and the resulting disciplinary measures. After that incident, the prison was put on general lockdown. In early July 1971, prison staff we…

This is a class action brought by people held in the Special Program Unit (SPU) at Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. The SPU was part of a trend of “behavior modification units'' designed to control activists and those considered disruptive to the prison. The case arose out of a large fight on June 25, 1971 between 15 guards and people incarcerated and the resulting disciplinary measures. After that incident, the prison was put on general lockdown. In early July 1971, prison staff were surveyed and asked to identify people who were “trouble-makers.” The staff identified approximately 100 people who were then informed they would be put in disciplinary segregation because they were a security risk. They were initially held in a separate segregation unit before being placed in the SPU in October 1971.

The named plaintiffs filed their claim on September 2, 1971 with representation from the ACLU and the People’s Law Office. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and assigned to Judge William Bauer. The plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing they were put in segregation without proper procedural safeguards in violation of the Fifth Amendment and that the conditions in segregation constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The plaintiffs sought preliminary and final injunctive relief, declaratory judgment, and monetary damages. The defendants included the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, the warden and assistant warden of Stateville, and various prison officers. The court certified the class to include all those placed in the SPU at Stateville.

On April 18, 1972, the parties entered into a stipulation as to the facts concerning the procedural due process claim. The parties agreed there was 1) no written notice of charges, 2) no specific charges against the plaintiffs, 3) no evidence presented against the plaintiffs, 4) no hearings, 5) no right to cross-examine, 6) no right to call witnesses, 7) no transcripts, and 8) no basis for putting plaintiffs in the SPU other than the guidelines in the SPU Manual. After this, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied. 

The court then held a hearing for the preliminary injunction. On June 13, 1972, the court issued its opinion. As for the due process claim, the court found the SPU did count as punishment. Relying on Adams v. Pate, a Seventh Circuit opinion holding that due process requires notice of accusations and a reasonable opportunity to respond before being put in segregation, the judge found the defendants violated due process. The court ordered the defendants to change the procedures to ensure the plaintiffs received notice of the charges against them and an opportunity to respond before being put in segregation. However, the court held the conditions in the SPU were not bad enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment and that some were a necessary response to misconduct. The details were discussed in a later case, Carlisle v. Bensinger.

The plaintiffs appealed, arguing the procedural safeguards ordered were inadequate. The case was consolidated with five other Illinois prison cases (including Green v. Peters) that concerned the impact of the Supreme Court decision Morrisey v. Brewer, which held that parole revocation is a deprivation of liberty. The case was entitled U.S. ex rel. Miller v. Twomey. 479 F.2d 701. On May 16, 1973, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated without prejudice and remanded. The panel included Circuit Judges Pell and Stevens (future Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens) and Chief Justice Swygert. Judge Stevens wrote the opinion with Chief Judge Swygert dissenting.

The circuit court found that Morrisey stood for the proposition that people incarcerated must receive certain due process protections before a substantial deprivation of their liberty. Applying Morrisey, the court reasoned that the district judge ordered the wrong due process protections. The court explained that due process requires adequate and timely written notice, a fair opportunity to explain and call witnesses, and an impartial decision-maker, and the district court order did not meet the requirements. So, the court set aside that order and remanded, instructing the district court to hold hearings to determine the appropriate relief to comply with due process.

There is no information available about what happened on remand. However, the defendants soon stopped using the SPU as a behavior modification unit, converting it to a regular segregation unit. The case appears to be closed

Summary Authors

Sarah Marble (2/23/2022)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

71-01854

71-01869

71-01870

72-01396

72-01712

72-01713

71-01370

Opinion

United States of America ex rel. Miller v. Twomey

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

479 F.2d 701

May 16, 1973

May 16, 1973

Order/Opinion

1:71-02144

Amended Complaint

None

None

Complaint

Resources

Docket

Last updated May 29, 2022, 3:25 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Illinois

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Filing Date: Sept. 2, 1971

Closing Date: May 16, 1973

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

People placed in the segregation unit of Stateville Penitentiary

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU National (all projects)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Warden of Stateville Penitentiary, State

Assistant Warden of Joliet Penitentiary, State

Assistant Warden of Stateville Penitentiary, State

Lead Officer of Special Program Unit at Joliet Penetentiary, State

Director of Illinois Department of Corrections, State

Senior Captain of Stateville Penitentiary Illinois, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Due Process

Due Process: Procedural Due Process

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 1973 - None

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief granted

Issues

General:

Administrative segregation

Bathing and hygiene

Classification / placement

Conditions of confinement

Confinement/isolation

Disciplinary procedures

Disciplinary segregation

Sanitation / living conditions

Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)

Totality of conditions

Affected Gender:

Male

Medical/Mental Health:

Medical care, general

Type of Facility:

Government-run