Alexander v. U.S. Parole Com'n

Decision Date29 January 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-1343.,06-1343.
Citation514 F.3d 1083
PartiesRoy M. ALEXANDER, Petitioner-Appellee, v. UNITED STATES PAROLE COMMISION, Respondent-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

John M. Hutchins, Assistant United States Attorney (Troy A. Eid, United States Attorney and Paul Farley, Assistant United States Attorney, with him on the briefs), Denver, CO, for Respondent-Appellant.

Daniel J. Sears, Denver, CO, for Petitioner-Appellee.

Before McCONNELL, EBEL and GORSUCH, Circuit Judges.

McCONNELL, Circuit Judge.

The Federal Youth Corrections Act ("YCA"), enacted in 1950, was designed to prevent youths from hardening into habitual offenders by providing them with treatment aimed at achieving rehabilitation. 18 U.S.C. § 5010 (repealed 1984). Because the statute was repealed in 1984, there are few inmates remaining who were sentenced under the Act. Petitioner-appellee Roy Alexander may be the only one. The brutality of his crime—a murder and robbery of four individuals—sets him apart from most YCA offenders and makes his case particularly difficult. Because Mr. Alexander's crime was so heinous, the United States Parole Commission ("Commission") has repeatedly denied parole' despite Mr. Alexander's successful Completion of his treatment program. Though on each previous habeas petition the district court found the Commission's denial supported by the evidence, on his most recent petition the district court granted him relief, ordering the Commission to take into consideration possible conditions on release in its analysis of Mr. Alexander's parole eligibility, and to develop a prerelease plan for Mr. Alexander, to be followed by the Bureau of Prisons. The Commission appeals from this order. We take, jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and 28 U.S.C. § 2253 and affirm in part and reverse in part.


In 1981, at the age of sixteen, Roy Alexander and another individual committed a ruthless murder and robbery in which they shot and killed four members of a family, including a young child. The jury sentenced Mr. Alexander to four consecutive life terms. Because of his young age, however, the judge sentenced him under the YCA. 18 U.S.C. § 5010(c) (repealed 1984). By sentencing him under the YCA, the district judge found that Mr. Alexander could benefit from the YCA's rehabilitative and training programs, which might eventually assist him in reentering society. See Dorszynski v. United States, 418 U.S. 424, 433, 94 S.Ct. 3042, 41 L.Ed.2d 855 (1974). However, the judge stated that Mr. Alexander should spend at minimum fifteen years, and more likely at least twenty to twenty-five years, in prison.

A. The Federal Youth Corrections Act

The YCA was designed "to promote the rehabilitation of those youths who the sentencing judge believes show promise of becoming useful citizens." Watts v. Hadden, 651 F.2d 1354, 1368 (10th Cir.1981). See also H.R.Rep. No.81-2974, reprinted in 1950 U.S.C.C.A.N. 3984; Dorszynski, 418 U.S. at 433, 94 S.Ct. 3042. Statistics demonstrated that habitual offender characteristics were most likely to develop between the ages of 16 and 22; to combat that, the YCA aimed to "substitute rehabilitative principles for, retributive methods of treating antisocial behavior," Watts, 651 F.2d at 1368, in an attempt to "restore normal behavior patterns,"`Dorszynski, 418 U.S. at 432-33, 94 S.Ct. 3042. Because "the execution of sentence was to fit the person, not the crime for which he was convicted," id. at 434, 94 S.Ct. 3042, the sentencing judge was given flexibility in his sentencing and could depart from "traditional sentencing patterns," instead focusing on "correction and rehabilitation," Watts, 651 F.2d at 1374. See also Benedict v. Rodgers, 748 F.2d 543, 545 (10th Cir.1984). The YCA's goal was to achieve eventual release of the offender once he was effectively rehabilitated. Watts, 651 F.2d at 1376.

To accomplish this goal, immediately after sentencing, the youth receives an individualized program plan designed to achieve rehabilitation. Once the Warden certifies that the youth offender has completed his program, the Warden gives a recommendation either in favor of or against parole and the Commission holds a release hearing to evaluate the youth offender's response to treatment. Benedict, 748 F.2d at 547; Christians v. Rodgers, 592 F.Supp. 71 (D.Colo.1984). The Commission considers several factors in making its parole decision. Under the Parole Commission and Reorganization Act, the Commission must determine: (1) whether release would depreciate the seriousness of the inmate's offense or promote disrespect for the law; and (2) whether release would jeopardize public welfare. 18 U.S.C. § 4206(a) (repealed 1984). However, the purposes underlying the YCA must also be considered, and the "offenders' response to treatment is to be a determinative factor when considering those inmates' eligibility for parole." Watts, 651 F.2d at 1380; Benedict, 748 F.2d at 546. To evaluate response to treatment, the Commission must consider whether the prisoner received "sufficient corrective training, counseling, education, and therapy." 28 C.F.R. § 2.64(d)(1). Additionally, the Commission must consider the inmate's work record and prison misconduct. Id. at (d)(3)(v), (d)(4). In some YCA cases, this Court found that the Parole Commission ignored this directive and abused its discretion by failing to consider rehabilitation or the individual offender's response to treatment. See Watts, 651 F.2d at 1375; Benedict, 748 F.2d at 546.

B. Mr. Alexander's Response Under the YCA

Mr. Alexander struggled during the early years of his incarceration, but by 1987 he began responding positively to treatment. He completed his program plan, which included 100 hours of group counseling and 500 hours of individual counseling. After 1987, he committed no disciplinary infractions, See Alexander v. Crabtree, No. 93-1019, 2 F.3d 1160, 1993 WL 307649, at *1 (10th Cir. Aug.9, 1993) (unpublished table decision) ("Alexander I"). In 1991, the Chief of Psychology at FCI Sheridan, where Mr. Alexander was imprisoned, stated that Mr. Alexander "ha[d] met both the letter and the intent of the Youth Corrections Act," and that Mr. Alexander did "not suffer from a major psychological disorder." Id. In 1992, the Warden recommended that Mr. Alexander be paroled. Id.

The Parole Commission declined to follow this recommendation, expressing concern over the problems Mr. Alexander exhibited prior to 1987 and his apparent lack of remorse. The Commission found release would pose "an unwarranted risk to the public and also, without good cause, depreciate the heinous nature of [Mr. Alexander's] offense." Id. Mr. Alexander filed a habeas petition with the district court, claiming that the Commission had not complied with the YCA because it failed to give sufficient weight to his rehabilitation. Id. at *2. The district court denied the petition, and we affirmed the district court but remanded the case to the Commission, requiring it to provide additional evidence supporting its denial of parole. Id. at *3. The Commission ordered Mr. Alexander to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, who recommended that Mr. Alexander receive "insight-oriented psychotherapy." Alexander v. Crabtree, No. 94-1375, 45 F.3d 439, 1994 WL 722961, at *2 (10th Cir. Dec.20, 1994) (unpublished table decision) ("Alexander II"). The Commission again denied parole in a special reconsideration hearing. Mr. Alexander filed his second habeas petition, which the district court again denied. We affirmed on appeal. Id. at *3.

Mr. Alexander received interim reconsideration hearings in 1995, 1996, and 1997. See 28 C.F.R. § 2.64(c). Each time, the Commission denied parole. In 1998, Mr. Alexander waived his right to an interim hearing and instead filed his third habeas petition challenging the denial of parole, which the district court denied. Alexander v. United States Parole Coram'n, No. 99-1262, 211 F.3d 1277, 2000 WL 517928, (10th Cir. May 1, 2000) (unpublished table decision) ("Alexander III"). This Court affirmed on appeal, finding that Mr. Alexander's failure to consistently show remorse, combined with the serious nature of his offense, provided a rational basis for the Commission's denial of parole. Id. at *3.

In 2001, Mr. Alexander received a de novo parole hearing. It was during this hearing that Mr. Alexander first accepted full responsibility for his crime. However, the Commission again denied parole, continuing the case for another 15 years. On appeal, the National Appeals Board remanded for a new hearing and requested a current psychological evaluation to assess the impact of psychological counseling and therapy on Mr. Alexander's rehabilitation. The psychologist found that Mr. Alexander was not mentally ill and did not experience emotional distress. The Commission again denied parole, concerned that Mr. Alexander's remorse was not sincere and stating in its Notice of Action that "there continues to be significant doubt that your response to treatment programs has reduced the risk of further risk to the community in that it is found you are not remorseful...." R. at 126. The National Appeals Board affirmed.

Mr. Alexander received his most recent interim hearing in 2003. He was represented by Drug Treatment Specialist Doug Tucker, who had represented him in prior hearings and had worked with him in his treatment since 1991. The examiner, summarizing Mr. Tucker's representation, stated that "the subject accepts responsibility for his behavior, ... expressed his remorse and has participated in all available programs to prepare himself for return to the community ... Mr. Tucker believes that subject no longer represents a threat to the community if ordered for release." Id. at 143. Nonetheless, the examiner held that

There is no history of any mental health problems prior to the current offense. The only explanation is that subject was unable to handle the everyday stresses of...

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