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Cruel and Unusual Punishment:

Thomas v. Baca, 2007 WL 2758741 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 21), holds that the L.A. County Jail's practice of having many inmates (pre-trial detainees and post-conviction prisoners) sleep on mattresses on the floor violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause (as to prisoners) and the Due Process Clause (as to detainees).

Interestingly, though, the finding wasn't based on a conclusion that such a practice caused unacceptable physical discomfort, or hygiene problems. Rather, it seems that the court thought that requiring people to sleep on mattresses (presumably with adequate other bedding) rather than on bunks was just an unacceptable indignity:

[T]he Court finds that requiring inmates to sleep on the floor deprives them of a minimum measure of civilized treatment and access to life's necessities because access to a bed is an integral part of the “adequate shelter” mandated by the Eighth Amendment. The “routine discomfort inherent in the prison setting” may not state a constitutional claim, but depriving inmates of beds goes deeper. The Constitution clearly does not allow prisoners to suffer the deprivation of adequate food or water. Just so, prisons may not deprive those in their care of a basic place to sleep -- a bed; for like wearing clothing, sleeping in a bed identifies our common humanity.

That many individuals, for cultural or health reasons, choose to sleep on the floor in no way detracts from this point. A predilection for camping under the stars or the soothing touch a hard futon may have on a sore back is entirely different in kind from stripping an individual of the option of using a bed. Quite simply, that a custom of leaving inmates nowhere to sleep but the floor constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is nothing short of self-evident.

The Court is not alone in finding that a minimum degree of civilized conduct demands such a conclusion. In Lareau v. Manson, 651 F.2d 96, 107-08 (2d Cir.1981) (emphasis added), for example, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that “forcing men to sleep on mattresses on the floors” violates the Eighth Amendment because it does “not provide minimum decent housing under any circumstances for any period of time.” Similarly, the Third Circuit, in holding that a county's remedial plan to improve conditions in its jail would satisfy Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment requirements of adequate shelter if, inter alia, it provided inmates with “bunk-type beds of their own,” characterized forced floor-sleeping, even with mattresses, as an “unsanitary and humiliating practice.” Union County Jail Inmates v. Di Buono, 713 F.2d 984, 996, 1001 (3d Cir.1983); see also Lyons v. Powell, 838 F.2d 28, 30 (1st Cir.1988)(holding that floor-sleeping with mattress stated cognizable Fourteenth Amendment violation); Anela, 790 F.2d at 1069 (same, in light of Lareau and Union County); Albano v. Mitchell, No. C 97-3781, 1998 WL 101743, at *1 (N.D.Cal. Feb.24, 1998) (unpublished) (noting that allegations of floor-sleeping “may be sufficient to implicate denial of the minimum civilized measures of life's necessities”); Loya v. Bd. of County Comm'rs, No. CV 91-216, 1992 WL 176131, at *2 (D.Idaho May 4, 1992) (unpublished) (noting its own previous holding that “sleeping on the floor is constitutionally prohibited”); Balla v. Bd. of Corr., 656 F.Supp. 1108, 1114 (D.Idaho 1987) (enjoining floor-sleeping and characterizing it as “dehumanizing, intolerable and certainly of no penological benefit”); Capps v. Atiyeh, 495 F.Supp. 802 (D.Or.1980)(holding that overcrowded conditions which led to practices including floor-sleeping violated the Eighth Amendment); Stewart v. Gates, 450 F.Supp. 583, 588 (C.D.Cal.1978) (holding floor-sleeping unconstitutional).

The basic humanity inherent in providing access to a bed highlights the practice of forced floor-sleeping as one of the unconstitutional effects of prison overcrowding.... [O]vercrowding “may dilute other constitutionally required services such that they fall below the minimum Eighth Amendment standards, and it may reach a level at which the shelter of the inmates is unfit for human habitation.” IdForcing inmates to sleep on the floor stoops to that unconstitutional level.

International guidelines support this basic right. See, e.g., Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 578, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005) (considering “international opinion” in Eighth Amendment analysis); Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002) (same). For example, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which contain guidelines regarding confinement conditions and set forth minimum acceptable prison conditions, provide that “[e]very prisoner shall, in accordance with local or national standards, be provided with a separate bed, and with separate and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness.” United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, E.S.C. Res. 663 C (XXIV), U.N. ESCOR, 24th Sess., Supp. No. 1, ¶ 19, U.N. Doc. E/3048 (1957) (amended 1977) (emphasis added); see Lareau, 651 F.2d at 106 (relying on these standards in assessing the meaning of “adequate shelter” and holding floor-sleeping unconstitutional).

It sounds like there is indeed precedent for the court's decision (though I haven't myself read the lower court cases that the opinion cites, I have no reason to doubt the court's summary of the cases). But isn't this a strange result? Is the presence or absence of a bunk (not of a moderately comfortable place to sleep, but a bunk as such) really a question of constitutional dimension? Even accepting the Court's holdings that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies to conditions of confinement, is placing mattresses on the floor really constitutionally "cruel"?

In any case, this isn't my core area of expertise, so perhaps I'm missing something here; still, the case seemed worth mentioning to our readers.

llamasex (mail) (www):
Why does the case seem worth mentioning to us?
10.12.2007 8:28pm
Seamus (mail):
WTF? My first semester in law school, when I was too broke to get a bed frame, I slept on a mattress on the floor. If only I'd known that I was denying myself a basic human dignity. Apparently, I was sufferint something equivalent to having to sleep in alleys and go dumpster diving my my meals.

Quite simply, that a custom of leaving inmates nowhere to sleep but the floor constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is nothing short of self-evident.

I take it that "self-evident" is a legal term of art meaning "something I believe strongly but can't be bothered to demonstrate, and in any event don't need to demonstrate because all right-thinking people must agree with me already."
10.12.2007 8:34pm
Seamus (mail):
Uh, make that "dumpster diving *for* my meals."
10.12.2007 8:34pm
PEG (mail) (www):
I think the point is more about packing prisoners together rather than the presence or absence of bunks. Putting prisoners, often violent people made more so by being locked with a bunch of other violent people in too small a place, together, is just a recipe for violence and all kinds of abuses, physical, sexual, psychological... This is particularly true in California, and especially in LA, where prison overcrowding has become a sickening disgrace. The way prisoners are treated in these jails most of the time is indeed cruel and unusual punishment.

That being said, sentences such as "Quite simply, that a custom of leaving inmates nowhere to sleep but the floor constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is nothing short of self-evident" are nothing short of ridiculous. Um, no, it's not self-evident that "leaving inmates nowhere to sleep but the floor" AS SUCH constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, it hardly constitutes punishment, let alone cruel or unusual.

Furthermore, the international standard the court cites (I know, I know, Justice Scalia, international law is irrelevant) says that prisoners must have beds or "bedding", a vague enough word that leaves room for futons and other bunk-less sleeping arrangements.

As far as this case is concerned, in practice, I wouldn't be surprised if the lawyers for the plaintiff hadn't found sufficient evidence of the kind of abuse I mention in the first paragraph (which is very hard to get), but that the Court, suspecting such abuse, used this loophole as a way to give the plaintiff a way out. Not pretty as far as law goes, but what goes on in these jails isn't pretty either, and if I had been the judge and that had been the case, I might have rendered a similar decision.
10.12.2007 8:50pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Understand that in many jails:

1. The "mattress" is a foam rubber mat, maybe an inch thick, like the mat they use in high school wrestling. A real mattress would quickly get dirty (see below) and be hard to clean, whereas these mats can be hosed down.
Try sleeping on a concrete floor with one of those. I'd bet every pressure point starts hurting, and in a hurry.

2. A cell is, what, maybe eight by eight, with a third or so of that taken up by bunks, another part by the toilet. If you allow 2.5 ft for the bunks on one side and the toilet on the other, there's only about 2-3 ft. left. So only place for the mat is on the floor, literally pressing against the toilet, which is shared by three people. Happy dreams!

I can see the court's ruling both as to temporary detainees (who are suspects and occasionally witnesses) and as to long term ones (who might be in that position continually).
10.12.2007 8:50pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
My first semester in law school, when I was too broke to get a bed frame, I slept on a mattress on the floor. If only I'd known that I was denying myself a basic human dignity.

I tend to agree that this is not a constitutional deprivation, I find Seamus's reasoning assinine and idiotic in the extreme. The fact that you may choose to do something does not mean that when it is forced upon you, it is not cruel and unusual. A woman may choose to have anal sex with a prison guard. But a prison guard forcing anal sex on her is cruel and unusual punishment.
10.12.2007 8:54pm
Hoosier:
Why "anal" sex?
10.12.2007 9:29pm
KeithK (mail):
Yet another absurd "constitutional" decision by our wonderful court system.
10.12.2007 9:33pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Well, now....

A great many years ago, I spent a couple of hours in a local police lockup which had nothing but a hard shelf, no mattress at all. I believe the lockup in the town I am living in now has similar amenities (or lack thereof, if you will) and I suspect that this is more the norm than the exception. Does this mean that such facilities fail the test in that they do "not provide minimum decent housing under any circumstances for any period of time?" Or does this refer only to jails and prisons where the "tenancy" is long-term?
10.12.2007 9:44pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Usually these claims are related to overcrowding and safety concerns. They start putting mattresses on the floor when they've run out of cots and are packing them in like sardines.
If prisoners had their own cell with their own futon, we wouldn't be seeing these cases. At home, I sleep on a futon on the floor, but in my own room in my own apartment. It's a personal space issue. Personal space matters where you have pre-trial detainees mixed in with convicted gang members doing time and looking for fresh victims. Couldn't tell for sure from the post if that was at issue.
10.12.2007 9:46pm
Tek Jansen:
Hoosier: why not?
10.12.2007 10:17pm
JohnO (mail):
It's horrifying to think back about it now, but when I was in the Marine Corps, they denied me basic human dignity by making me sleep for multiple nights both outside and on the ground. And they didn't even ask if it was okay.
10.12.2007 10:22pm
Benjamin R. George:
As an American grad student, I usually use the words ‘bed’ and ‘mattress’ interchangeably - the rest of it strikes me as mainly cosmetic.
10.12.2007 10:27pm
Benjamin R. George:
To the various commenters who say the issue is the degree to which people are being packed together - would it be any less cruel and unusual to get minimalistic metal frames to slide under the mattresses, making them technically beds? It seems like you could pack those about as tight.
10.12.2007 10:32pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
What's next-- the thread count on the sheets?
10.12.2007 10:35pm
byomtov (mail):
Even accepting the Court's holdings that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies to conditions of confinement,

Is this really in dispute?
10.12.2007 10:47pm
Scipio_79:
Let's just forget about it and say that being in prison at all is cruel and unusual.
10.12.2007 10:48pm
JB:
If you've got minimalistic metal frames, why not solve the real problem and put them up as cell dividers, creating microcells that keep the gang members from the pretrial detainees?

For that matter, if that's the real problem than why not judicially rule away prison overcrowding?
10.12.2007 10:50pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
I'm waiting for the Court's ruling on the millions of Japanese living in unacceptable indignity.
10.12.2007 10:52pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Creepy crawlies like floors. Not to mention mice.

There is a reason most people would like to be above floor level.
10.12.2007 11:24pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The problem with metal frames (cots) is that some prisoners will take them apart and make weapons out of them. Or use them as weapons.

So if your jail is overcrowded mattresses on the floor is the only option.
10.12.2007 11:29pm
Hrm:

Cruel and Unusual Punishment


We use these words for such trivial things, and then we can't understand why some people generally don't think of much worse acts as fitting the phrase.

It's bad enough when it's done by politicians, but now judges? Oi..

Much like Nazi, these words should probably be reserved so that when someone uses them, everyone can instantly understand what is under discussion. Instead we end up in endless digression about to what degree the phrase applies, thereby diluting the word. One is forced to wonder, though, if that is the point in such things..
10.12.2007 11:42pm
reasonsformoving:
hrm: amen.

I've worked in both jails and prisons. In jails that house folks overnight for morning appearances, there is no mattress b/c most of the inmates are intoxicated and there's the risk that they will suffocate on their own vomit.

In prisons (and I've worked in a number of them in different states) the mattress is not 1 inch of foam. It's similar to what's used in the military. Not fancy, but more than 1 inch .

And let's not forget the REASON inmates are not given better mattresses: the more material the more things can be made into weapons. It's amazing what these folks can make into a weapon. Who would think a toilet roll tube could be a weapon, but it can.
10.12.2007 11:54pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Even accepting the Court's holdings that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies to conditions of confinement,

Is this really in dispute?
Ask Clarence Thomas.
10.13.2007 12:23am
Brian G (mail) (www):
When I was in jail in 1993, I had to sleep on the floor under the bunk beds, with two other inmates. It sucked. Wish I knew how to sue back then.
10.13.2007 12:33am
Eli Rabett (www):
So what have the pre-trial detainees been convicted of?
10.13.2007 1:00am
Walter guyll (mail):
Prison crowding is not the the fault of the prisoners. The state put them in jail, let the state take proper care of them.
Perhaps they might be housed with legislators...
10.13.2007 2:23am
one of many (mail):
The question is not the level of comforted granted by the bed but the indgignity of not being permitted to use a bed. It is about the cultural reasoning, humans sleep on beds and animals sleep on the floor, when one is forced to sleep on the floor one is being treated as an animal. Likewise humans wear clothes and animals don't, when one is not permitted to wear clothes one is being treated as an animal. While these are not absolute to all members of the american culture and not to other cultures these are norms of american culture. I think the humans wear clothes, animals don't wear clothes might be easier to follow if your not culturally inclined to the humans sleep in beds, animals sleep on floor thing. While one is free to choose to go naked or sleep on the floor (within limits) when it is forced upon one it is a whole different kettle of fish. I don't think the court's reasoning is all that hard to follow, not sure if I agree with it. Prisoners have to be treated as humans not as animals and well humans get to sleep in beds.
10.13.2007 2:25am
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:
Humans aren't generally locked in cages, either, while animals frequently are - does that mean locking prisoners in cages is cruel and unusual?
10.13.2007 10:36am
FantasiaWHT:
Aw damn, my son takes naps at daycare on those exact, plastic, 1" - 2" thick mats on the floor. Pretty crowded together, too. I guess the daycare is violating my son's fundamental rights, huh?

And what about schools who go on overnight trips and spend nights in other schools' gyms with just sleeping bags?

I'm sorry, but anything CHOSEN by significant numbers of people, not for masochistic or purification reasons (like self-flagellation, for example), but simply as a matter of preference, by definition is NOT cruel and unusual punishment. I think THAT is self-evident.

How long before television is required for "civilized treatment" and "life's necessities"?
10.13.2007 11:00am
byomtov (mail):
Even accepting the Court's holdings that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies to conditions of confinement,

Is this really in dispute?

Ask Clarence Thomas.


Suppose I ask you instead, since Thomas doesn't comment on this blog, so far as I know. Can unduly harsh conditions of confinement constitute cruel and unusual punishment? Suppose prisoners are inadequately fed, or receive no medical care? Suppose they are beaten by guards (yes, I know Thomas sees no problem)?.

What do you think, David?
10.13.2007 2:38pm
Elliot123 (mail):
We can now add "cruel and unusual punishment" to the list of terms that are so casually used they have lost their common meaning. Even the emotional impact of this phrase is lost if this decision stands. The next time someone uses the term to describe conditions somewhere, we will have wonder if the problem is a mattress on the floor or cutting out tongues.
10.13.2007 2:49pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Is it really true that Clarence Thomas "sees no problem" with guards beating prisoners? I'm no lawyer, but as I recall his point was that the beating was certainly illegal but not part of his sentenced punishment, and therefore the prisoner had a legal claim against the guards who beat him, but not one based on the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause.

That seems logical to me. If the judge or the jury or both had said "we sentence this guy to be taken out in the hall and have his teeth knocked out by guards", that certainly would have been cruel and unusual punishment. But they didn't, did they?
10.13.2007 3:08pm
byomtov (mail):
Is it really true that Clarence Thomas "sees no problem" with guards beating prisoners? I'm no lawyer, but as I recall his point was that the beating was certainly illegal but not part of his sentenced punishment, and therefore the prisoner had a legal claim against the guards who beat him, but not one based on the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause.

Yes. I should have said no constitutional problem.

Still, it's bizarre. A beating is cruel and unusual punishment if ordered by the legislature or the court, but not if inflicted by guards, who are, after all, state employees. Surely the state has some obligation to protect prisoners' physical wellbeing. No matter how low you think that requirement is, not preventing guards from beating prisoners must violate it.

And even if you accept Thomas' strange reasoning here, that doesn't address the broader question of whether conditions of confinement can be so harsh as to be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
10.13.2007 3:51pm
John Neff (mail):
There are federal standards for the minimum number of square feet of cell space per inmate and the minimum number of square feet of commons space per inmate and on the number of showers and other amenities. A state may adopt the some or all of the federal standards and decide if they should apply to older facilities that were built prior to adoption of the standards.

The mattress case is a new one as far as I know. Our jail inspector will not allow cots to be used because they can be taken apart and the pieces used as weapons. Prisoners sue for all sorts of things and I suppose that is how this mattress case developed but evidently the judge did not have a good BS detector.
10.13.2007 3:56pm
Virginia:
Prison crowding is not the the fault of the prisoners.

Yeah, people just end up in prison for reasons that aren't their fault. It's not like they committed crimes or something.
10.13.2007 4:05pm
Virginia:
This reminds me of the numerous lawsuits where prisoners complain that the prison is not providing them with a special religious diet, thereby violating their free exercise rights. The argument goes that the state has deprived the prisoner of his ability to prepare his own special meals, and therefore it must provide them for him.

Nonsense. These criminals deprived themselves of the ability to eat what they want to by committing crimes.

If you're a free person, you can eat whatever you want, if you can find an affordable place to buy it and know how to prepare it. When you go to prison, you eat what the rest of the criminals eat. So long as that's adequately nutritious, you have nothing to complain about. If you prefer a different diet, think about that before you commit a crime.
10.13.2007 4:13pm
Frater Plotter:
Virginia: In certain religions, eating particular food is considered to be the equivalent of blasphemy. Do you suggest that prisoners should be required to blaspheme? For instance, would it be appropriate for a prison to issue, for use as toilet paper, copies of the Bible?
10.13.2007 4:37pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Is there any religion that requires one to starve or become malnourished rather than eat some food? Which religion? What food?
10.13.2007 4:45pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Suppose I ask you instead, since Thomas doesn't comment on this blog, so far as I know. Can unduly harsh conditions of confinement constitute cruel and unusual punishment?
But that wasn't your question. Your question was whether it was in dispute, and I answered you in the affirmative, by implying that Thomas does in fact dispute it.
10.13.2007 4:46pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Still, it's bizarre. A beating is cruel and unusual punishment if ordered by the legislature or the court, but not if inflicted by guards, who are, after all, state employees. Surely the state has some obligation to protect prisoners' physical wellbeing. No matter how low you think that requirement is, not preventing guards from beating prisoners must violate it.
What's "bizarre" about it? A police officer is obviously a state employee, but if he comes up to you one day on the street as you're walking your dog and punches you in the face, that's obviously not cruel and unusual punishment, right? You may have some remedy, but certainly not a claim of an 8th amendment violation.

Why? Not because the state has no obligation to prevent police officers from beating you, but because the eighth amendment applies to punishments imposed by the state, not to assaults committed by state employees. That's Thomas's position: not that it isn't "cruel and unusual" for prison guards to commit assault, but that it isn't "punishment" as that term is used in the 8th amendment.

In other words, surely the state does have an obligation to prevent guards from beating prisoners, but that obligation is not rooted in the eighth amendment.
10.13.2007 4:56pm
Bottomfish (mail):
The meaning of "bed" is culturally determined. It is not necessarily a piece of furniture that holds the sleeper above the floor. The UN "Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners", which the opinion cites, says nothing about the kind of bed. All it says is: Every prisoner shall, in accordance with local or national standards, be provided with a separate bed, and with separate and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness.
10.13.2007 5:03pm
one of many (mail):
RE: the cages question.

If prisoners were locked in cages used for animals, then it would not be permitted. Jail cells and such, depite having similarities to animal cages are not animal cages but instead are structures specifically designed to hold human beings. I suspect that sleeping bags (and matresseses) which are designed for humans might be sufficent stay off further ruling by the court and am almost positive that foutons would meet the standards of the court that prisoners have beds (I have learned never to be positive about what a court will decide in the future). Indeed, in light of this ruling, I suspect a killing could be made in prison rated foutons.
10.13.2007 5:07pm
Seamus (mail):

I tend to agree that this is not a constitutional deprivation, I find Seamus's reasoning assinine and idiotic in the extreme. The fact that you may choose to do something does not mean that when it is forced upon you, it is not cruel and unusual. A woman may choose to have anal sex with a prison guard. But a prison guard forcing anal sex on her is cruel and unusual punishment.



You know, what I find asinine is CrazyTrain's suggestion that anal sex is comparable to sleeping on the floor. Or maybe, in situations where ordinary people say, "Sure, you can crash at my apartment for the weekend, but there isn't a lot of room and you'll have to sleep on the floor," CrazyTrain says instead, . . . well, you get the idea.
10.13.2007 5:26pm
Eliza:
Apologies to Jefferson, but "it's self-evident" is a specious argument. Simply reply, "it's not evident to me," and you've dispatched it.

And I wonder, why resort to the US constitution when suing under parallel state constitutional provisions would make a California decision unassailable?
10.13.2007 5:55pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
And I wonder, why resort to the US constitution when suing under parallel state constitutional provisions would make a California decision unassailable?

If the California Supreme Court has previously concluded that the state's 8th Amendment analogue is substantively identical to the Federal 8th Amendment then there's no difference in jurisprudence, but Federal judges are generally less sympathetic to state governments than state judges (for obvious reasons).
10.13.2007 6:12pm
byomtov (mail):
Why? Not because the state has no obligation to prevent police officers from beating you, but because the eighth amendment applies to punishments imposed by the state, not to assaults committed by state employees. That's Thomas's position: not that it isn't "cruel and unusual" for prison guards to commit assault, but that it isn't "punishment" as that term is used in the 8th amendment.

Actually, I don't think even Thomas went as far as you do. He based his dissent on the notion that the beating caused "insignificant harm," not that guards' treatment of prisoners could never be cruel and unusual punishment. What seems bizarre to me is his standard. Per Thomas, the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain," is inadequate, even if there is no need to inflict the pain to maintain order. His dissent, which relies heavily on an analogy to deprivation, seems far-fetched to me.

In any case, I still await your answer to my main question. Can conditions of confinement ever be so harsh as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment? Clarence Thomas, I have learned, thinks the answer is yes, though I suspect that in practice it will be a very rare case that meets his standard. What about you?
10.13.2007 6:22pm
kiniyakki (mail):
Whole-hearted agreement w/ the people who have said that prisoners did something to end up where they are, so they should not have the "lack of choice" argument. Prison should ensure that people have their most basic needs met - and that is it. And, if the overcrowding is a "safety" issue - then call it that. Does anybody think that with all the supposedly smart lawyers working on this case they somehow forgot to say "oh, and by sleeping on mattresses on the floor, we are really concerned about safety."? If that was their concern, they should have just claimed that from the start.
10.13.2007 6:33pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
We use these words for such trivial things, and then we can't understand why some people generally don't think of much worse acts as fitting the phrase.
Incarceration in the LA County jail isn't trivial. It's not Mayberry RFD. The bedding question comes up in a content of frequent killings, assaults, rapes, and the levels of extortion that go on in such a setting.
And let's not forget the REASON inmates are not given better mattresses: the more material the more things can be made into weapons. At CCA we didn't use the mattress to make weapons, we used it to make earplugs. A few weeks of sleep deprivation makes a powerful but subtle form of cruel punishment.
Humans aren't generally locked in cages, either, while animals frequently are - does that mean locking prisoners in cages is cruel and unusual? The problem isn't being locked in a cage. It's being locked in a cage with 50 other people.
Virgina: Yeah, people just end up in prison [sic, see jail] for reasons that aren't their fault. It's not like they committed crimes or something.
Hence the term "pre-trial detainee". Many are innocent, a few will be found guilty by juries, the overwhelming number will be urged by public defenders or other counsel to take a plea bargain, especially if they are innocent. In my case, I spent all my money to hire a lawyer, we brought the accuser in for a deposition, he admitted nothing happened, all charges were dropped. Typically LA County jail inmates never get that level of due process.
Virgina: Nonsense. These criminals deprived themselves of the ability to eat what they want to by committing crimes. Again, see concept of "pre-trial detainee" At CCA, I was denied a vegetarian diet, and lost 15 pounds in 3 weeks and developed serious health problems. My culture has a cannibalism taboo; I have a lifelong committment to nonviolence. There was no crime; there was a false accusation and an overzealous prosecutor. If it could happen to me, it could happen to you.
Seamus: You know, what I find asinine is CrazyTrain's suggestion that anal sex is comparable to sleeping on the floor. I think what the judge understands is at LA County, sleeping on the floor is going to result in too much unwanted anal sex. Having a bed creates a zone of personal space that a person can reasonably insist somebody else stay out of. That zone is eroded when all you have is undefined area of floor. Again, the judge isn't making a sweeping ruling about all jails everywhere - it is a ruling about what due process requires at LA County.
10.13.2007 6:49pm
Justin (mail):
We lock up so many people, more than any other country (at both a per capita and absolute numbers) - many, if not most, for nonviolent offenses. We've created a prison culture - for many communities in this country, going to jail is a sad but seemingly necessary part of life. If we're going to have such a cruel and depressing criminal justice system, mostly in order to fight an unneccesary "drug war," at least we owe these people, whose weaknesses and situations are exploited by both prison guard unions and private industry for their own benefits - a minimal standard of decent life. I think this decision is obvious and necessary, even without going into the security/"anal sex" issues.

I'm surprised of the cruelty of conservative thought, that would be actually troubled with the concept of being forced to provide beds for people whose freedom to get their own (rightly or wrongly) has been taken away.
10.13.2007 7:18pm
zooba:
kiniyakki: It is not a lack of choice argument. The court simply rebukes the state's asserted defense that some people choose to sleep on the floor on some occasions. The state's argument is clearly a loser.

Some people choose to kill themselves (it's called suicide). That does not mean that the state can just choose to kill large number of prisoners (who weren't sentenced to the death penalty) due to overcrowding.

Similarly, lots of people choose to inflict pain on themselves. Have you ever heard of BDSM (not to mention the practices of many indigenous cultures)? The state can't torture prisoners just because some people choose to get tortured.

Some people choose to fast during the day (on certain occasions) for religious reasons. That doesn't mean that the prison can save money by feeding all prisoners only meals at night.

Yes, prisoners are overwhelmingly at fault for being in prison. That does not imply that prisons can do what ever they want to prisoners as long as someone outside of prison would voluntarily accept it. It's a complete Non-Sequitur.
10.13.2007 7:49pm
HappyConservative (mail):
I hope this freak judge is the victim of a crime. It is rulings like this that make prison far too enjoyable and make going to prison a joke for these miscreants.

All prisoners should sleep on concrete floors. Without mattresses and minimal blankets. Why are we so soft on these criminals?
10.13.2007 8:51pm
kiniyakki (mail):
zooba,

I agree w/ your underlying point. You cannot force a person to do X just b/c there are some people who voluntarily do X.

However, in this case, X is simply sleeping on the floor on a mattress. That is not a big deal.

If the real problem is overcrowding, or lack of privacy (and those things absolutely could be a big deal) - say it in those terms. Or, be specfic that beds is a measure of privacy. Don't make the argument that a prisoner has a right to a bed, and use lack of privacy as a justification for that right. Make it be that even prisoners have a limited right to privacy (already done by SCOTUS) - and one way to measure the amount of privacy a person has is whether they have their own bed.

Finally, it is hard to take supporters of this opinion seriously when they are comparing sleeping on the floor to anal rape, suicide/death, etc. I think these things are a long ways apart. (and again, if lack of privacy leads to anal rape or death - make that be the focal point of the argument)
10.13.2007 9:42pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Actually, I don't think even Thomas went as far as you do. He based his dissent on the notion that the beating caused "insignificant harm," not that guards' treatment of prisoners could never be cruel and unusual punishment. What seems bizarre to me is his standard. Per Thomas, the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain," is inadequate, even if there is no need to inflict the pain to maintain order. His dissent, which relies heavily on an analogy to deprivation, seems far-fetched to me.
First, I didn't "go "as far as" anything; I was explaining Thomas's view, not mine. While I suspect Thomas is correct, I haven't done the underlying research to know.

Second, you're misreading Thomas in _Hudson_. Thomas, as he is wont to do when he thinks a party's case is weak, explains that he doesn't think the court's precedents are correct, but then proceeds to apply those precedents and point out that the party should lose even under these laws. He thought the petitioner should lose because the injuries were minor -- by the way, contrary to the nasty assessment of the NYT editorial board, that wasn't Thomas's personal opinion; that was the factual finding of the district court -- but he also thought that this wasn't the sort of cause of action governed by the Eighth.

If you're doubting me on this point, read his concurrence in Farmer; he writes a separate opinion explicitly to make this point. Or his FN12 in Hope v. Pelzer.

In any case, I still await your answer to my main question. Can conditions of confinement ever be so harsh as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment?
Obviously, stare decisis would give us the answer of "yes," but as I said above, I haven't done the research to know what the original understanding of the Eighth was. I think that there's a cause of action for sufficiently harsh conditions of confinement, but it's not clear to me that it ought to be rooted in the Eighth, or in the Constitution at all.
10.14.2007 2:30am
triticale (mail) (www):
I keep hearing people assert that the Second Amendment only applies to black powder muzzle loading arms, because that was what the Framers knew and had in mind. Surely "cruel and unusual" should be judged by the same 18th Century standards.
10.14.2007 10:33am
Russ (mail):
Some of the folks on here are quite loopy. Yes, there are those in jail who didn't do what they are accused of, but most are there b/c they have, in fact, broken some kind of law.

Here's a wild and wacky idea to avoid these "overcrowding" issue, and I think Jim Carrey said it best - "STOP BREAKING THE LAW!"

On the mattress issue, I never knew that when the Army deployed me to Iraq that sleeping on the ground in the desert would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Maybe I should sue. Or maybe I should accept that some think our criminals should be treated better than the members of the Armed Forces.
10.14.2007 10:35am
Scott Gustafson (mail):
Google tent city phoenix

It's been in place for almost a decade now and hasn't been found to be cruel and unusual punishment.
10.14.2007 11:28am
Donald (mail):
Hmmm...if you have a bunk system you can stack the detainees two or three high. If you have mattresses on the floor you can only be one level. It would seem by basic engineering that the floor and mattress combination would 'reduce' overcrowding in a cell while bunking would increase overcrowding.

Let's just add this to another element in the ever growing separation of the law from its people.
10.14.2007 11:34am
byomtov (mail):
Second, you're misreading Thomas in _Hudson_. Thomas, as he is wont to do when he thinks a party's case is weak, explains that he doesn't think the court's precedents are correct, but then proceeds to apply those precedents and point out that the party should lose even under these laws.

Then Thomas' view is even more bizarre than I thought. Why?

First, the Amendment says cruel and unusual punishment shall not be "inflicted." That seems to me to proscribe actions, not laws. Under Thomas' interpretation, there can be no violation as long as the law is general enough. "Gee, all the statute says is 'five years in jail.' Can't be cruel and unusual."

Second, there are many ways the state can inflict C&U punishment without an explicit statute. Prison conditions - and hence punishment - are a consequence of many state actions and inactions. The state might fail to provide adequate funding for food, sanitation, or medical care (at whatever one might consider the minimum acceptable level). It might turn a blind eye towards abuses by guards - this is hardly unheard of.

You say,

That's Thomas's position: not that it isn't "cruel and unusual" for prison guards to commit assault, but that it isn't "punishment" as that term is used in the 8th amendment.

But if the state tolerates the assault then what difference does it make whether the law explicitly authorizes it? It's a distinction without a difference. Were the guards in Hudson charged? (IIRC they, or someone had to pay $800 in damages for dental work. Is that the usual penalty for assault?)

So to be more precise than "bizarre," I would say Thomas view is wildly formalistic. It ignores the reality that state action can lead to the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment in many more ways than just specifying, by statute, punishments that fall into this category.
10.14.2007 12:11pm
H Tuttle (mail):
Sleeping on mattresses on the the floor is an indignity not to be suffered? Sheesh. My whole family just finished sleeping on mattresses set on the floor for three weeks at our new house because the bulk of our furniture is still at our old house while it's been shown. Uncomfortable? Yes. An indignity? No. Dudes, you're in prison, not weekending at the Palace. Tough nuts should have been the proper response. What next? A demand for a mint on the pillow and warmed face towels before bed?
10.14.2007 12:17pm
colagirl:
Cripes, when my friend came up to stay with us for a couple days, we didn't have a bed for her and she had to sleep on an air mattress on the floor. Good thing she didn't realize we were denying her a constitutional right and infringing on her human dignity!
10.14.2007 12:47pm
abw (www):
I heard the problem was there was a pea under the mattress, which we all have to admit would be cruel and unusual.

Wait, maybe they didn't mean "pea" but rather... nevermind.
10.14.2007 1:25pm
hey (mail):
byomtov: you're running into people who don't actually believe that the constitution is supposed to mandate all tat is good and right in the world while also banning all that is evil, immoral, or merely uncomfortable. These horrid people believe that there are other remedies besides the constitution such as laws and torts, such misguided fools, that can most appropriately be applied instead of using the constitution in every possible case.

So a guard who beats a prisoner commits assault and several torts. Sovereign immunity can cause problems with this - but that demonstrates that we should reduce, if not eliminate, sovereign immunity rather than making a paper cut into a constitutional case. Thomas is a great justice because he knows what his role is not. Nearly every other justice, being posessed of the hammer of unconstitutionality, sees all cases as constitutional nails. Laws and actions can be deepy wrong or evil without violating the constitution. Lawrence v Texas, for example.

But neither side is going to convince the other - you either want to abuse the constitution into a tool to rectify all problems in the country, or you respect it for what it is and treausre the stability and predictability that it provides (I'm not biased at all!)
10.14.2007 1:31pm
tree hugging sister (mail) (www):
Dang. I knew it wasn't the optimum situation ~ sleeping on a donated mattress on the bedroom floor ~ when we were poverty-stricken, enlisted newly-weds, but I hadn't realized how cruel. However, as dignity is NOT one of my long suits, I've recovered nicely and look back on those first years fondly.
10.14.2007 2:02pm
Lee Davis:
This qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment now? In college, I called it fine hospitality. When crashing at friends, a mattress with bedding was luxury; bare floor and the pillow & sleeping bag I brought along was what was expected. Yeesh.
10.14.2007 2:07pm
Jazzbo (mail):
I spent a few nights on one of those thin, plastic-coated mattresses while serving a drunken driving sentence. It was highly uncomfortable to be sure, but I didn't feel that my constitutional rights were endangered. After all, being the captain of my destiny, nobody put me behind the wheel drunk. These whiners should cowboy up and take their medicine and forget it.
10.14.2007 2:23pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
To Hey, THS, Le Davis, Jazzbo: If your local government passed a regulation making it illegal to sleep on a bed in your home, rather than on a thin mattress on the floor, would that raise any constitutional concerns? Which clauses apply? Hey, at least, rejects Lawrence, which holds you have some liberty interest in what you choose to do in your bedroom.
10.14.2007 3:03pm
Ian Maitland (mail):
Hey Byomtov -- You got me thinking. We could save a lot of paper if we just reduced the constitution to a single sentence: "Anything that shocks the conscience of the Court is unconstitutional."
As a bonus, this proposal would have the merit of bringing the constitution into line with the court's actual practice.
10.14.2007 3:20pm
Fat Man (mail):
Yes, the judiciary is staffed by deluded fruitcakes.
10.14.2007 3:35pm
ReaderY:
It seems the county can spare them the indignity of mattresses by having them sleep on sleeping bags.
10.14.2007 3:58pm
bilpu (mail):
Justice Thomas point is that, extended to this case, sleeping on floors is not part of the prisoner's punishment and therefore any remedies to it would have to be addressed through some other approach. If the inmates had been sentenced to sleep on floors, then, and only then, would the inmates have recourse to constitutional relief.
10.14.2007 5:17pm
HappyConservative (mail):
Jazzbo,

You only spent 2 nights in jail? Stupid liberal judges. You would have learned your lesson better with 2 weeks or a month. Drunk driving kills people.

You should obey the law!
10.14.2007 5:18pm
Ken Hahn (mail):
Two things.
All Federal Judges have decided that the Constitution, laws and facts do not matter whatsoever. All that matters is the prejudice of the Judge involved. All decisions are then justified by legal language meant to confuse the general public without really explaining anything. Having lifetime appointments, Judges know that they won't be subject to any consequences unless they actually commit crimes, and then they can be elected to Congress like Alcee Hastings.

Second, without illegal aliens, there wouldn't be overcrowding in Los Angeles jails. The city and county don't even try to cooperate with Federal authorities ( who don't seem all that cooperative themselves ). Being convicted of any crime while in the country illegally should be a Federal offense.

Without addressing federal responsibility for overcrowding by the governments failure to enforce immigration law and the city and county's failure to assist there is no way to solve the underlying problem. No federal judge will address this issue.
10.14.2007 6:04pm
michael i:
Have the articles of impeachment for those judges been written yet? If not, why not?
10.14.2007 6:36pm
NickM (mail) (www):
It's Dean Pregerson - son of Harry "The ACLU asked me to" Pregerson. Don't expect anything more than personal preference in his Constitutional decisions.

Nick
10.14.2007 6:36pm
one of many:
Not quite Bilpu, Thomas also indicated that if judges knew that being beaten by guards were part of the incarceration, even if not specified by the judge, then the beating would be considered part of the punishment (actually he went further and excluded willful ignorance on the part of judges). In this case, the judges sentencing people to jail and not issuing PR bonds are aware (through this suit if not for any other reason) of the conditions in the jail, likewise the judges are aware that they are going to be in the LA jail and that sleeping on the floor is charecteristic of a stay in the LA jail.
10.14.2007 7:15pm
Richard S (mail):
Constituationally speaking, does "cruel and unusual" mean the same thing as "cruel or unusual."

It sounds like the practice in quesiton was common, and therefore could not be unusual. That's basic logic, no?
10.14.2007 8:40pm
Smokey:
Dave Hardy:
Understand that in many jails:

1. The "mattress" is a foam rubber mat, maybe an inch thick, like the mat they use in high school wrestling. A real mattress would quickly get dirty (see below) and be hard to clean, whereas these mats can be hosed down.
Try sleeping on a concrete floor with one of those. I'd bet every pressure point starts hurting, and in a hurry.

2. A cell is, what, maybe eight by eight, with a third or so of that taken up by bunks, another part by the toilet. If you allow 2.5 ft for the bunks on one side and the toilet on the other, there's only about 2-3 ft. left. So only place for the mat is on the floor, literally pressing against the toilet, which is shared by three people.
Well, then, 'understand' this, too:

The ACLU is wound up tight over the words 'cruel' and 'unusual' punishment. But they always stress the words 'cruel' and 'unusual' - without acknowledging 'punishment' - which is the relevant issue here.

Prison is punishment for committing a crime. #1 and #2 above are simply a part of that punishment, which is, anyway, much milder punishment for a crime than anything conceived of by the Framers.

As Zarkov notes above:
"What's next -- the thread count on the sheets?"
Like they say, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." In my younger days I've slept using my jacket for a blanket, and my tennis shoes as a pillow. But it wasn't punishment - which is the whole issue here!

So suck it up, and quit sniveling about what happens to you when you prey on the law-abiding members of society - who don't really care about the thread count of your sheets.
10.14.2007 9:38pm
theobromophile (www):
Sheesh... I spent a summer in DC sleeping on a futon mattress that was placed on the floor. What can I say - the federal government doesn't pay its legal interns well. Maybe if it spent less on prisons.....
10.14.2007 10:07pm
HappyConservative:

I spent a summer in DC sleeping on a futon mattress that was placed on the floor. What can I say - the federal government doesn't pay its legal interns well. Maybe if it spent less on prisons.....


Yes, the federal government should spend less on prisons. But it shouldn't spend the savings on interns.

You know what, if you really had skills that the government needed, then you should have been able to get a normal job, not an internship. Don't bitch about your pay; you were lucky to have an opportunity to gain valuable skills. The taxpayers shouldn't take the savings from prisons to increase your intern salary. It should cut taxes.
10.14.2007 11:12pm
theobromophile (www):
My, my, HappyConservative. Your alias seems to be a misnomer. Why the lecture? A little joking gotten you down?
10.14.2007 11:25pm
Thunder Lips the Ultimate Male (mail) (www):
"But it shouldn't spend the savings on interns. "

You might want to find a more appropriate pseudonym "happyconservative."

"A little joking gotten you down?"

Judging by his/her/its posts, he/she/it seems to lack any semblance of what might be called a sense of humor.
10.15.2007 12:02am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Scott G. is right. What about Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio's housing prisoners in tents, even when the air temperature is well over 100? Arizona's in the Ninth Circuit too, I believe.

I couldn't find out what the Phoenix prisoners sleep on. Maybe it's bunk beds.
10.15.2007 12:16am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
"Is the presence or absence of a bunk (not of a moderately comfortable place to sleep, but a bunk as such) really a question of constitutional dimension?"

I think the argument can be made for any disabled inmates based on Goodman v. Georgia, US 2006 (unanimous), the answer is yes. Has to meet the height requirements of the Title II Americans With Disabilities Act ADAAG, too.
10.15.2007 12:48am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
"Who would think a toilet roll tube could be a weapon, but it can."

Really? I thought a toilet roll tube was usually made into a "floozy doll," or so I was told by a colleague form law school who worked as a probation officer.
10.15.2007 12:51am
HappyConservative:

Why the lecture? A little joking gotten you down?


If you were willing to work at what the Federal Government paid you for the internship, then it seems that the pay was fair given your skills. If you had a better opportunity somewhere else, presumably you would have been doing that instead of the internship.

I am just saying, advocating increases in pay for interns is a bad idea. The Federal Government shouldn't be in the business of charity when it comes to these positions. It should pay market wages, no more and no less.
10.15.2007 4:13am
anonVCfan:
NickM writes: "It's Dean Pregerson"

I think this answers just about every one of the questions posed on this thread.
10.15.2007 7:32am
Adeez (mail):
I know it's in vogue here to be tough on prisoners.

But perhaps me and my bleeding heart brethren will be less concerned about prisoners when prisons are filled ONLY with people who've actually committed acts that ought be crimes to begin with.

A drug dealer sitting in prison now is no more morally condemnable than a bartender. And if the state is gonna continue locking people up who don't deserve to lose their freedoms, then people like me are gonna remain concerned about how they're treated once inside.
10.15.2007 11:32am
theobromophile (www):
HappyConservative,

Your second lecture misses the point; however, it illustrates nicely that you have quite the axe to grind. I will, however, address one huge misconception that you have:
If you had a better opportunity somewhere else, presumably you would have been doing that instead of the internship.

If by "better," you mean "more lucrative," say so. Just don't pretend that it would have been "better" in terms of contributing to society, which, last time I checked, is entirely worthwhile but does not pay well. (I did have more lucrative opportunities, although those were not the best use of my time.) Of course, your basic thesis - that persons will always be paid what they are worth - is an entirely different matter, one which does not belong on Prof. Volokh's lovely Eighth Amendment thread.

I'm sorry that you do not know the meaning of "facetious." Read up and apply to my first comment on this thread.

There is a certain irony (definition here) in the fact that those who contribute to society, via government work (ha! ;) ) may end up living in worse conditions than those who are under the auspices of said entity as a result of their antisocial behaviour.

Skip the next lecture. Whatever you're thinking of typing, just don't. Please. Let us joke, gambol, and frolic about the internet without being accosted by miserable persons.
10.15.2007 11:42am
Hans Bader (mail):
My wife spent part of her childhood without a bed.

But I guess law-abiding working-class people aren't entitled to the same creature comforts as convicted criminals, in the eyes of the courts.

What a baffling decision. The judge must not have known what it's like to experience real deprivation, if the judge felt that something this minor constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
10.15.2007 11:51am
LongSufferingRaidersFan (mail):
Oh no--Justin has weighed in again. Official evidence that the thread is now dead....
10.15.2007 11:56am
David M (mail) (www):
Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 10/15/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
10.15.2007 12:30pm
FantasiaWHT:
Hey all you folks who are arguing that it's not only convicted criminals who are subject to this treatment...

IT'S STILL NOT CRUEL AND UNUSUAL.

It's sleeping conditions. It's mats. Mats are not as comfortable as spring mattresses, but they are more comfortable than the floor. Like I said before, if large numbers of people WILLINGLY CHOOSE TO DO IT (for reasons other than masochism or ritual, at least) it cannot be cruel and unusual punishment.
you're running into people who don't actually believe that the constitution is supposed to mandate all tat is good and right in the world while also banning all that is evil, immoral, or merely uncomfortable. These horrid people believe that there are other remedies besides the constitution such as laws and torts, such misguided fools, that can most appropriately be applied instead of using the constitution in every possible case.

So a guard who beats a prisoner commits assault and several torts. Sovereign immunity can cause problems with this - but that demonstrates that we should reduce, if not eliminate, sovereign immunity rather than making a paper cut into a constitutional case. Thomas is a great justice because he knows what his role is not. Nearly every other justice, being posessed of the hammer of unconstitutionality, sees all cases as constitutional nails. Laws and actions can be deepy wrong or evil without violating the constitution. Lawrence v Texas, for example.



QFT
10.15.2007 1:28pm
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmmm.

1. When I was in the Marines and out in the field I wish I had a mattress.

2. Sleeping on the floor? Somebody needs to go and inform the Japanese that it's unconstitutional.
10.15.2007 1:29pm
John Kunze:
Can we get the court to agree that being protected from rape while in prison is also a "minimum measure of civilized treatment"?
10.15.2007 3:25pm
anonVCfan:
Can we get the court to agree that being protected from rape while in prison is also a "minimum measure of civilized treatment"?

I'd be much less ready to criticize a decision so holding than Dean Pregerson's ridiculousness. DP's right that it's unpleasant and somewhat uncivilized, and that even prisoners probably deserve better, but to constitutionalize those feelings is the mistake, I think. OTOH, DP does cite Roper v. Simmons, which basically holds that the Eighth Amendment is whatever a judge wants it to be, as long as that judge reads a lot and can find other countries on a map.
10.15.2007 4:36pm
theobromophile (www):

My wife spent part of her childhood without a bed.

But I guess law-abiding working-class people aren't entitled to the same creature comforts as convicted criminals, in the eyes of the courts.

Not to go all Ayn Rand on you, but that reminds me of the end of The Fountainhead, where Roark complained about the problems of low-income housing - those without means would live better than those with means, solely on the basis of their need. It does set up the perverse system of rewarding those who do ill (or not much at all) while punishing those who are independent (as they are required to support people in the former category).
10.15.2007 6:09pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Guys, what about those who have not been convicted and are awaiting trial. The density of Red Queens around here is huge. However, there is a real question, should there be separate facilities for those who have been convicted and those who are awaiting trial?
10.17.2007 1:02am
Christopher Taylor (mail) (www):
Happy Conservative strikes me as neither.
10.17.2007 1:44pm