PHILADELPHIA, NOV. 30 -- Pennsylvania Corrections Commissioner David S. Owens Jr. has been found in contempt of a federal court consent decree and will face fines of $500 a day unless he changes the way the Department of Corrections alerts inmates of changes in prison regulations.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph S. Lord III, in an order filed Wednesday but received by attorneys today, ruled that the department must begin notifying inmates individually of changes in the inmate code of conduct, rather than merely posting rule changes on prison bulletin boards. Lord gave Owens 30 days to amend the policy or be subject to fines.
Lord's ruling stemmed from a 1978 consent decree and subsequent court-approved agreements between the state and inmates who filed a class-action lawsuit in 1970 challenging the constitutionality of conditions and policies at six state prisons.
In December, inmates, contending that the state was violating at least six provisions of the consent decree, filed a contempt motion before Lord.
Lord found that the state was violating only one provision, which prohibited punishing inmates for breaking rules that had not yet been incorporated into the inmate code of conduct.
"Obviously, we're disappointed that he didn't accept our other contentions, but overall we're delighted with the opinion," said Stefan Presser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Philadelphia, which is representing the inmates.
Kenneth G. Robinson, press secretary for the department, said it was still reviewing the ruling.