APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS DIVISION OF ST. THOMAS D.C. Civil No. 76-535
Before ADAMS, ROSENN, and HUNTER, Circuit Judges
In this appeal we are presented with the question of whether the district court for the Virgin Islands has jurisdiction to issue a writ of habeas corpus in favor of a prisoner sentenced by it who is incarcerated outside of the territorial limits of the Virgin Islands. The district court held that it had no jurisdiction over such a case and dismissed. We reverse.
Ishmail Muslim Ali ("petitioner") was convicted under the name of Ishmael X. La Beet in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, of eight counts of first degree murder, four counts of first degree assault, and two counts of robbery. He was sentenced to consecutive life sentences on each of the murder charges as well as to fifteen years on each of the other charges, to run concurrently with the life sentence imposed on the first murder count.
After sentencing, petitioner was transferred from the Virgin Islands to the Federal Correctional Facility at Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, pursuant to a contractual agreement between the United States Bureau of Prisons and the Commissioner of Public Safety of the Virgin Islands.*fn1 To alleviate the alleged illegal conditions of his confinement, the petitioner instituted this habeas corpus action.
Petitioner brought suit under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (1970) against Winston Gibson ("respondent"), the Commissioner of Public Safety for the Virgin Islands, asking that the respondent be ordered to produce petitioner's body in the district court for the Virgin Islands. Respondent has penal authority over persons convicted of crimes in the Virgin Islands; it was at the request of his predecessor that the petitioner was incarcerated in the Atlanta Correctional Facility. Petitioner alleged that he was facing cruel and unusual punishment by virtue of the conditions at the Atlanta facility, including: (1) overcrowding of prisoners; (2) racial tension among the prisoners and guards; (3) easy availability of drugs; (4) homosexuality and rape; (5) brutality by prison guards; and (6) cruelty to prisoners.
As a supplemental ground for his claim of cruel and unusual punishment, petitioner alleged that his imprisonment in Atlanta was so far removed geographically from his home that it was nearly impossible for his family to visit and that during their rare visits, his family was subjected to harassment by prison officials. He further alleged that he was being discriminated against because of his crime and that he had never been given any physical examination upon entry to the prison. Additionally, petitioner alleged that he was segregated into an isolation cell without adequate justification, with the result that he was unable to practice his religion by attending religious services regularly; that he was forced to eat pork against his religious beliefs; and that he was denied access to educational classes, vocational training, and to the hospital for elective surgery. He also stated his belief that his life was in danger, that attempts on his life had been made, and that his complaints to prison officials about these and other conditions had been ignored. Petitioner supported his allegations with affidavits of other prisoners of the Atlanta facility.
In addition to the habeas corpus petition, petitioner also asked for injunctive relief to be entered and for an order to transfer him back to the Virgin Islands. He subsequently amended his complaint to encompass other federal remedies as well.*fn2 All of these claims are in essence tied to the theory that petitioner's imprisonment in Atlanta was made unlawful because it was unauthorized by the law of the Virgin Islands. Petitioner claims that respondent's authority to transfer prisoners to the federal system is limited to cases which "serve the best interests of the inmate."*fn3 He contends that when conditions at the federal facility place the inmate's life in danger and subject him to terrible circumstances, no transfer can legally be made and the prisoner must be returned to the Virgin Islands.
The respondent moved to have the petitioner's habeas corpus and other claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. This motion was granted by the district court in an order entered on November 4, 1976, which held that the district court for the Virgin Islands had no jurisdiction over a habeas corpus petition of a prisoner imprisoned outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the Virgin Islands. On March 2, 1977, petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied for the reasons stated in the November 4, 1976, order. This appeal was filed March 8, 1977. Following notice of appeal, sometime in the spring of 1977, petitioner was transferred from the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, to the penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Respondent filed a motion with this court to dismiss this appeal as moot. The motion was denied by panel decision on August 22, 1977.*fn4 Therefore, we must still face the question of whether the district court has jurisdiction.
In deciding it was without jurisdiction to grant a writ of habeas corpus, the district court relied on our decision in Ruiz v. United States, 365 F.2d 500 (3d Cir. 1966), in which we held that "the district court would not have jurisdiction to issue a writ of habeas corpus, regardless of the merits of the application" if the petitioner is not held in custody in the Virgin Islands. 365 F.2d at 502. In Ruiz we accurately stated ...