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Jones v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 8, 2017



          DJS Dominic J. Squatrito United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Dashante Jones, commenced this civil rights action against correctional officials at Cheshire Correctional Institution (“Cheshire”) and Northern Correctional Institution (“Northern”). He contends that he was denied religious services while confined in the Administrative Segregation Program in violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. Although informed of his obligation to respond to the motion, the plaintiff has not filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion is granted.

          I. Standard of Review

         A motion for summary judgment may be granted only where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(a), Fed. R. Civ. P.; In re Dana Corp., 574 F.3d 129, 151 (2d Cir. 2009). The moving party may satisfy his burden “by showing-that is pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009). He must present such evidence as would allow a jury to find in his favor to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000). The nonmoving party “must offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful.” D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998).

          II. Facts[1]

         The plaintiff was first admitted to the custody of the Department of Correction in August 1998. Since then, he has been discharged and readmitted several times and transferred among correctional facilities on multiple occasions. On some occasions after readmission or transfer, the plaintiff received inmate orientation. The orientation procedures sometimes included information on inmate grievance procedures. At each orientation session, the plaintiff received an inmate handbook which included information about inmate grievance procedures.

         On May 23, 2014, after being charged with assault on Department of Correction staff, the plaintiff was transferred to Northern and placed in Administrative Segregation, a program for inmates with behavioral problems posing a threat to the safety and security of other inmates and staff who cannot safely be managed in the general population. The program has three phases. Phase I is at Northern, while Phases II and III are at Cheshire. Inmates progress through the phase program based on their individual behavior and participation in required classes and groups.

         For safety and security reasons, inmates in Phase I are not given access to programs offered in the general population. Communal religious services is one such program. Instead, at least once a week, each Phase I inmate is offered personal visits by a chaplain of his faith for religious services. Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Native American chaplains are available.

         Department of Correction clinical staff offer a program called “Start Now” to inmates in Phase I of Administrative Segregation. The program consists of 34 sessions. Only three inmates may participate in the program at any time because, during the program, the inmates are confined individually in booths and only three booths are available. Inmates do not participate in this program in a communal setting for safety and security reasons. The booths are located in the visiting area of the prison. The plaintiff did not utilize the booths in connection with the “Start Now” program, but did utilize them for “Prison Rape Elimination Act” training.

         The booths are not used for communal religious services. Brian Jackson, the administrative captain at Northern, explained that “it would be administratively and operationally difficult, if not impossible, to offer regular religious services to all A/S Phase I inmates with just three booths.” Defs.' Mem. Ex. C, ECF No. 26-5, ¶ 5. There are usually between 20 and 25 inmates in Phase I. The inmates have different faiths and, therefore, different chaplains. The booths can accommodate the Start Now program because there are only a few inmates at any time beginning Phase I. Other inmates are progressing through the program or graduating to Phase II. Using the booths for religious services would be impractical because of the multiple faiths present in the Phase I population and the availability of chaplains to conduct the multiple services.

         As an alternative, Muslim inmates in Phase I have access to personal visits from a Muslim chaplain at least once a week and are allowed to retain possession of a copy of the Quran, a Kufi and a prayer rug. They can pray in their cells and order additional religious reading materials. In addition, they are provided with an alternate diet that conforms to their religious dietary requirements and accommodations are made to meal schedules during Muslim feast and fast days.

         On January 6, 2015, the plaintiff was transferred to Cheshire to begin Phase II of the Administrative Segregation Program. Phases II and III are a continuation of the program begun at Northern. Because inmates in Phase II have been identified as having behavioral problems that constitute a threat to institutional safety and security and are not able to be safely managed in the general population, the inmates again are not provided the same programs offered to general population inmates, including communal religious services. As in Phase I, Phase II and III inmates are offered personal visits with a chaplain of their faith at least once per week, have access to religious materials, and can pray in their cells.

         Upon admission to Phase II, an inmate is assigned to a small group of 3-4 inmates and remains with that group through Phase III. The inmates in the group have all started the program at approximately the same time and advance through the program together. Group assignment is not based on religion, so multiple religions are represented in any group. Currently, there are 4-6 groups.

         In Phase II, each small group attends an anger management program twice per week. The program is conducted by a counselor. In Phase III, a recreation supervisor conducts group social activities for each small group about twice per week. These activities are held in a small room in the Administrative Segregation block. The room, about 14' by 16', cannot safely house more ...

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