Friday, August 6, 2010

Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2010)

Thomas v. Ponder is an other example of Ninth Circuit supervision and management of state prisons. Thomas, an incarcerated prisoner, filed a U.S.C. 1983 case in federal court alleging violation of the Eighth Amendment deprivation of his right to exercise. The state prison had experienced the stabbing of two Correction Officers, and ordered a lockdown of the high security facility occupied by Thomas and other inmates. Thomas, although not involved in the assault, had a lengthy disciplinary record and had threatened officers and other inmates. When the lockdown was modified, the officers offered Thomas access to exercise if he signed an agreement not to engage in violence. He refused to sign the agreement despite several opportunities to do so. The District Court dismissed the case on summary judgment. The 2-1 majority of the Ninth Circuit panel reversed. The Ninth Circuit panel, after extolling the virtue of exercise, held the prison officials could not mandate a prisoner to sign an agreement declining to engage in violence. According the majority, Thomas did not constitute a "substantial risk" and his "liberty interest," a phrase masquerading as Due Process in the Ninth Circuit, was violated. The phrase is nothing more than "policy." Or compare Richardson v. Runnels, 594 F.3d 666 (9th Cir. 2010. A series of attacks on correction officials in state prison by African Americans in a high security building led to a lockdown of all blacks in that facility. The plaintiff in a 1983 case argued he was locked down because he was black and not for participation in the assaults. According to the Ninth Circuit, the prison officials (in a high security facility) did not prove he was involved in the assaults and allowed his 1983 action to proceed. Yes. First you must prove that someone was involved in an assault before you can lockdown the prisoner. For 13 days.

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