383 F.Supp. 346 (D.Conn. 1974), Civ. B-883, Catalano v. United States

Docket Nº:Civ. B-883
Citation:383 F.Supp. 346
Party Name:Catalano v. United States
Case Date:October 09, 1974
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, District of Connecticut

Page 346

383 F.Supp. 346 (D.Conn. 1974)

Pasquale CATALANO et al.


UNITED STATES of America and John J. Norton, Warden, Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury, Connecticut.

Civ. No. B-883.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut.

Oct. 9, 1974

Page 347

Dennis E. Curtis, Stephen Wizner, Robert Davis, Law Student Intern, Jerome Frank, Legal Services Organization, New Haven, Conn., for plaintiffs.

Peter C. Dorsey, U.S. Atty., Thomas Maxwell, Asst. U.S. Atty., New Haven, Conn., for defendants.


ZAMPANO, District Judge.

This habeas corpus case, together with a series of similar applications for relief presently pending in this District, 1 raises the issue whether the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires that procedural rights be extended to federal prisoners prior to their classification as 'Special Offenders' or 'Special Cases.' The petitioners were represented by court appointed counsel, 2 hearings were held at which eight witnesses testified, 3 and comprehensive briefs were filed by the parties.


The petitioners, Pasquale Catalano, Mariano Ingoglia, and Donald Fontana, were, at the time this suit was instituted, inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut (hereinafter 'F.C.I.'). They contend that they have suffered serious deprivations and grievous losses as a result of their designations as 'Special Offenders' and 'Special Cases' by the Bureau of Prisons. Specifically, they claim that they have been denied social furloughs, release on parole, and transfers to Community Treatment Centers. In addition, they assert they have been subjected to administrative procedures and delays not applicable to other prisoners, and that they have been stigmatized as members of organized crime without factual justification.

Petitioner Catalano was committed to the F.C.I. in the fall of 1972 after his conviction for the interstate transportation of stolen goods. Several months later, he was notified he had been classified as a 'Special Offender' because of

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certain information in his presentence report which reflected a 'probable link with organized crime activities.' Apparently this conclusion was based on Catalano's 'acquaintance with the Gallo brothers' who were reputed to be key members of an organized crime syndicate in Brooklyn. According to Catalano, he was informed by his caseworker that his status as a 'Special Offender' would adversely affect his chances for a social furlough, for a transfer to a halfway house and, eventually, for parole.

On February 27, 1974, the staff at the F.C.I. approved Catalano's application for a two-day furlough to visit with his young son. Ordinarily, staff approval would permit an inmate to leave the prison pursuant to his request. However, since Catalano was a 'Special Offender,' the staff's decision had to be referred to the Bureau of Prisons in Washington for ratification. The Bureau withheld its ruling for over five weeks until finally in April, 1974, the application was denied. In addition, despite the staff's favorable recommendation, Catalano was denied a parole.

Petitioner Ingoglia, a co-defendant of Catalano's, entered the F.C.I. in 1973 to serve a sentence of two and one-half years. He was designated a 'Special Offender' in February, 1974 'due primarily to the organized nature of the offense, the sophistication that it involved, and the possibility of its connection with organized crime.'

When Ingoglia applied for a transfer to a Community Treatment Center, the institution staff approved. Were it not for the 'Special Offender' label on his file, Ingoglia would have been immediately sent to a halfway house. However, because of the designation Ingoglia's request was referred to the Bureau of Prisons which denied permission for the transfer. Moreover, five applications for social furloughs, all approved on the institutional level, had not been acted upon by the Bureau at the time of the hearings before this Court.

Petitioner Fontana was assigned to the F.C.I. in 1973 to serve a two and one-half year sentence for possession of stolen goods. Five months later he was informed he had been classified as a 'Special Offender' because of certain information linking him with organized crime. When Fontana applied for a transfer to a halfway house, the request was denied with the notation 'special offender, ineligible for transfer.' After this case was commenced, the Bureau of Prisons reconsidered Fontana's status and ordered that the 'Special Offender' marking be removed from his records. In compliance, prison officials merely pencilled a few lines across the classification stamped on his folder; the designation is still clearly visible on the files.

None of the three petitioners received prior notice of his 'Special Offender' classification; none was afforded an opportunity to be heard, to present evidence, or to have counsel or counsel-substitute in order to contest the authorities' actions; none was provided with a written decision setting forth the factual basis for the classification.


The terms 'Special Offender' and 'Special Case' were used interchangeably by the witnesses at trial. Caseworker Smithers stated that the notation was written on a prisoner's file if he 'needed to be followed from institution to institution;' caseworker Lefebvre testified that the label indicated the inmate was 'associated with organized crime activities;' and Mr. Edwards, Chief of Classification and Parole at the F.C.I., maintained that the characterization was placed on the records if there was any reason a prisoner 'could not be transferred without Bureau of Prisons approval.' While the testimony was not consistent on the point, it appears that a 'Special Offender' designation is used to control the transfer and release of any inmate who is a state prisoner, a member of organized crime, a custody risk, a 'notorious' person, or a 'threat' to a high government official.

In an effort to codify the various practices concerning the use of the 'Special

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Offender' stamp, the Bureau of Prisons, during the pendency of this action, promulgated a series of standards to identify and tabulate information 'on certain special categories of offenders who require greater case management supervision than the usual case.' Bureau of Prisons Policy Statement 7900.47 (April 30, 1974). These new guidelines set forth eight categories for the 'Special Offender' designation: non-federal prisoners, members of organized crime, protection cases, custody risks, subversives, notorious individuals, persons who pose a danger to high government officials, and any offender who requires 'close supervision.'

Prior to the issuance of these criteria, there were no written rules, regulations, instructions, or policy statements to aid the decision-maker faced with a potential 'Special Case.' No formalized procedures were followed prior to the application of the 'Special Offender' notation on a prisoner's records. Instead, decisions were based on vague, indefinite and varying sets of guidelines. Usually the caseworker initiated the classification after a review of the contents of the inmate's file. If in doubt the caseworker might refer the question to a superior or, as one caseworker testified, simply rely on the 'folklore' of prison practices. When a caseworker decided that a prisoner should be placed in a 'Special Offender' status, he forwarded the suggestion to the Chief of Classification and Parole who, after independent review, either rejected or accepted the recommendation. All affirmative rulings were then referred to the Bureau of Prisons for final approval.

Under the recently enacted regulations, the warden of each prison will assign a staff member to coordinate the Special Offender Program. The institution staff will make the initial determination based on 'court records, information from the Central Office, or other reliable sources.' An affirmative recommendation will be reviewed by the Central Office of the Bureau of Prisons and, if confirmed, the inmate will not be transferred or be allowed to participate in community programs without prior approval of the Central Office. A stamped notation of these restrictions is to be recorded on the prisoner's file at the institution.


Neither the procedures in effect at the time of trial nor the new standards grant a prisoner formal notice that he is a candidate for a 'Special Offender' classification. Moreover, he is not informed that the label has been recommended or approved. Testimony revealed that in most cases the inmate first learns of his status when he requests a transfer or a furlough and is told his application must be approved at the Bureau of Prisons level; in some cases, the prisoner becomes aware of his classification by 'looking over the caseworker's shoulder' and observing the markings on his file. Although upon inquiry an inmate is advised of the general reason for the designation, i.e., 'organized crime', 'security risk', etc., he is not apprised of the underlying evidence and is offered no opportunity to be heard or to contest the classification. His administrative remedies are, of course, preserved, Bureau of Prisons Policy Statement 2001.6 (February 14, 1974); cf. Kochie v. Norton, 343 F.Supp. 956 (D.Conn.1972); but at best these provide merely a review 'on the records.'

As one might expect, the most troublesome category...

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