Moss v. Clark, Civ. A. No. 88-0361-AM.

Decision Date21 October 1988
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 88-0361-AM.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
PartiesLawrence MOSS, Petitioner, v. Jeffrey CLARK, Respondent.

John D. Grad, Grad, Toothman, Logan & Chabot, P.C., Alexandria, Va., for petitioner.

Paula P. Newett, Asst. U.S. Atty., Alexandria, Va., for respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLIS, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Prison overcrowding is a national problem. It is especially acute at Lorton Reformatory,1 the prison facility for the District of Columbia.2 As a result, many District of Columbia (D.C.) Code offenders, who would ordinarily serve their terms at Lorton, have instead been "federalized;" that is, they have been placed in the federal prison system by the Attorney General of the United States. While such transfers may help alleviate the problem of overcrowding at Lorton, they create another problem: disparate treatment of D.C. Code offenders in terms of earning good time credits depending on whether they are placed in Lorton Reformatory or a federal prison. Those placed in federal prison do not fare as well inasmuch as their eligibility for good time credits is governed not by District of Columbia law, but by less favorable federal law.

Petitioner Lawrence Moss, a D.C. Code offender incarcerated in the federal prison system, is one of those who complains of this disparate treatment. Specifically, he challenges the constitutionality of the District of Columbia Good Time Credits Act of 1986. D.C. Code § 24-428, et seq. (1987) (hereinafter "the Act"). By its terms, the Act applies only to District of Columbia violators housed in District of Columbia facilities. To that inmate category, the Act provides good time and educational credits that reduce the time to parole eligibility and mandatory parole release. Moss asserts that his placement in the federal system by the Attorney General denies him due process and equal protection of the laws because it renders him ineligible for the more generous good time credits available to the D.C. Code offenders incarcerated in District of Columbia facilities.

Based on a review of the petition filed pro se by Lawrence Moss and the response of the United States, the Court concluded that the issues raised in this suit were substantial and sufficiently complex to warrant appointment of counsel for petitioner. Accordingly, counsel was appointed and both parties were ordered to submit briefs on the constitutional issues raised by the petition. The District of Columbia was subsequently given leave to intervene by order of the Court.

This matter is before the Court on petitioner Moss's Motion for Summary Judgment. The parties agree that the dispositive facts are undisputed and summary judgment, therefore, appropriate. Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P. Respondent further concedes that while Moss continues to be held at a federal institution, he will not receive good time credits as determined by the Act. Nonetheless, respondent maintains that petitioner has not made a valid equal protection argument because he is not "similarly situated" to offenders housed in District of Columbia facilities. Respondent argues that the Act's purpose is to alleviate severe overcrowding in District of Columbia prison facilities. Expanding the application of this Act to those prisoners transferred into the federal system would violate the purpose and intent of the Act because federal prisoners are not subjected to the same hardships stemming from overcrowding as are those inmates housed in District of Columbia facilities. Moreover, respondent argues that petitioner is entitled to good time credits under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 4161, which result in credits virtually identical to those previously available to petitioner under the scheme in effect when petitioner committed his offenses.3 Finally, respondent argues that application of the Act to D.C. Code offenders housed in federal prisons would provide an unjustified windfall to those prisoners.

The precise question presented, therefore, is whether petitioner's due process and equal protection rights are violated by the failure to grant petitioner, as a D.C. Code offender, the Act's good time benefits simply because prison overcrowding requires that he be housed in the federal system. The Court holds that it does; petitioner should be subject to both the penalties and benefits, including good time credit, of the sovereign whose laws he violated. See Gilstrap v. Clemmer, 284 F.2d 804 (4th Cir.1960) (designation of place of confinement has no bearing on which parole laws apply; an offender is subject to the laws of the sovereign which convicted him, including good time credits which directly impact parole consideration). To deprive petitioner of these benefits and to subject him to a harsher good time regime solely to alleviate prison overcrowding arbitrarily creates two classes of similarly situated individuals and invidiously discriminates against one category on the irrelevant basis of incarceration situs.

II. Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction over this petition is premised on 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Section 2241 challenges to Parole Commission decisions or to the execution of a sentence must be brought in the District Court with jurisdiction over the prisoner or the custodian. See Andrino v. United States Board of Parole, 550 F.2d 519 (9th Cir. 1977). Petitioner is currently housed at the Federal Correctional Institution, Petersburg, Virginia, a federal facility within the Eastern District of Virginia. Thus, this Court has jurisdiction over the prisoner. Further, the petition is properly brought under Section 2241 as it challenges the execution, rather than the legality, of the sentence. See, e.g., United States v. Snow, 748 F.2d 928 (4th Cir.1984) (Section 2241 is the proper vehicle for challenging the execution of sentence). Indeed, Section 2241 is especially appropriate for challenging the validity of a prisoner's detention where, as here, his federal custody does not result from a federal conviction. See, e.g., Plaster v. United States, 720 F.2d 340 (4th Cir.1983) (Section 2241 petition is the proper method to attack federal detention for purposes of international extradition).

III. Facts
A. The Petitioner

On October 2, 1985, Lawrence Moss was convicted and sentenced in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He received a 9 to 30 year indeterminate sentence for convictions of burglary, assault and theft.4 Pursuant to the D.C. Code § 24-425,5 the sentencing judge remanded petitioner to the custody of the Attorney General of the United States. Initially, petitioner was placed under the authority of the Department of Corrections for the District of Columbia.

Eight days after sentencing, Moss was transferred from the official custody of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections to the authority of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This was occasioned by the severe overcrowding at the District of Columbia's correctional facility at Lorton, Virginia. Moss has been in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons continuously since October 10, 1985, when he was designated to serve his term at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Petersburg, Virginia.6 During his incarceration in the federal system, Moss has received 31 days of extra good time credits for work performed in institutional operations pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4161.

B. The Federal "Good Time" System

The Bureau of Prisons awards federal prisoners good time credits which reduce a prisoner's maximum sentence as an incentive to encourage good behavior and involvement in prison industry. All prisoners who demonstrate good behavior while incarcerated are automatically entitled to earn "good conduct" credits of five to ten days per month based on the length of their sentence. 18 U.S.C. § 4161.7 This amount is not awarded as a lump sum at the beginning of a sentence; it is credited monthly as earned.8 In addition to the automatic "good conduct" credits, federal prisoners may earn, at the discretion of the Attorney General, "extra good time." 18 U.S.C. § 4162; 28 C.F.R. § 523.1-523.17 (1987). Extra good time is awarded for meritorious good time, work/study release good time, community treatment center good time, industrial good time, camp or farm good time and lump sum awards. Id. Prisoners may earn only one type of extra good time award at a time, except that a lump sum award may be earned in addition to any other extra good time award. Extra good time credits accrue at a rate of from three to five days per month for every month in which a prisoner participates in a specific activity or is incarcerated in a specific type of facility. 28 C.F.R. § 523.17(a).9

Meritorious good time credits are awarded to inmates performing work of "an exceptionally meritorious nature or ... of outstanding importance in connection with institutional operations." 28 C.F.R. § 523.11(a). Credits are also automatically available for inmates enrolled in work or study release programs for the entire period the inmate participates in the program. 28 C.F.R. § 523.12. The number of work/study release credits awarded lies completely within the discretionary authority of the Bureau of Prisons.

Prisoners engaged in prison industries earn extra good time credits for each month they are employed. 28 C.F.R. § 523.14. Industrial good time is not awarded to inmates placed on a waiting list for a prison industry job. Id. Those inmates assigned to a farm or camp rather than a prison earn similar credits for each month they are assigned to a camp or farm facility. The final type of extra good time available to federal prisoners are lump sum awards. 28 C.F.R. § 523.16. Lump sum awards of up to thirty days credit may be recommended and made by the Warden of a prisoner's facility, and amounts in excess of thirty days may be approved and awarded by the Regional Director. Lump sum awards may be recommended for the following reasons:

(1) An act of
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