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Thompson v. Carlson

decided: May 22, 1980.



Before Adams, Rosenn and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Sloviter



Appellants Norman Carlson, Director, United States Bureau of Prisons, and Charles Fenton, Warden of the Lewisburg Penitentiary, (hereinafter "Government") appealed from the order of the district court granting a writ of habeas corpus and directing officials of the United States Bureau of Prisons to transfer appellee prisoner to an institution at which he will be segregated from adult offenders and receive the treatment for youth offenders prescribed by 18 U.S.C. § 5011. The Government asserts that a prisoner who is given a consecutive sentence of life imprisonment as an adult offender while he is serving a Federal Youth Corrections Act ("YCA") sentence need not serve the remainder of the YCA sentence at a special YCA facility but may be returned to the general prison population. Because we conclude that under the circumstances of this case the YCA should not be construed to mandate completion of the YCA sentence in a YCA facility, we will reverse the order of the district court.



Appellee Richard Thompson was convicted in federal court in 1974 for assault with intent to rape on a federal reservation. Thompson was seventeen years old when convicted. He received an eight year sentence pursuant to section 5010(c) of the Youth Corrections Act, 18 U.S.C. § 5010(c), and was initially committed to the Federal Correctional Institution at Ashland, Kentucky. On June 27, 1977, while he was incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc, California, Thompson was convicted of first degree murder as a result of his participation in the murder of a fellow inmate who was stabbed by several other inmates while Thompson guarded against intrusion. Thompson, who was twenty years old at the time, was sentenced in the United States District Court for the Central District of California to a consecutive adult term of life imprisonment. The sentencing judge made a specific finding that Thompson would "not derive benefit under 18 U.S.C. § 5010(b) or (c) of the Federal Youth Corrections Act as a Youth Offender." Thereafter in July, 1977, Thompson was transferred to the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where he was held without segregation from adult prisoners.

Thompson's record manifests a history of assaults and other offenses committed while he was serving his YCA sentence. In January, 1975, while at the Federal Correctional Institution, Milan, Michigan, he assaulted another inmate. He received incident reports while at Milan for, inter alia, threatening a staff member with bodily harm, assault, and disruptive conduct. In April, 1975, Thompson was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution, El Reno, Oklahoma, "for adjustment purposes" but there received additional incident reports, including one for making a sharpened weapon. In September, 1975, while being transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution, Lompoc, California, Thompson was involved in a fight with another person. His participation in the murder of the fellow Lompoc inmate occurred in February, 1976. In May, 1977, Thompson was sentenced to a concurrent jail term of one year by a California state court for assaulting a Los Angeles County corrections officer while being processed into the Los Angeles County Jail. The officer suffered a fractured nose and concussion. Even after his transfer to Lewisburg, Thompson has received incident reports for his actions including the assault of a staff member, threatening another staff member with bodily harm, and inciting other inmates to riot.

While at Lewisburg, Thompson filed a petition for habeas corpus alleging that his confinement there was illegal because he was entitled to be segregated from adult offenders until the completion of his YCA sentence in June, 1981, when the consecutive life sentence will begin. His petition was referred to a United States Magistrate. The magistrate's report, issued on January 19, 1979, contains the following:

The magistrate feels that there is merit to the Government's argument that little purpose would now be served in confining petitioner in a youth institution, particularly when in the not too distant future he will be committed to a regular adult facility to serve his life sentence. The magistrate also believes that there is merit to the Government's argument that petitioner, with the type of behavior that he has exhibited which resulted in both his YCA sentence and his consecutive life sentence, together with his sorry history of behavior while incarcerated, would not benefit from youth confinement and, indeed, petitioner could well be a disruptive influence on those who have been receptive to YCA treatment. (emphasis in original).

Nonetheless, the magistrate held that Thompson was entitled to be segregated from adult inmates because of this court's interpretation of the YCA in United States ex rel. Dancy v. Arnold, 572 F.2d 107 (3d Cir. 1978), and the subsequent district court opinion in Micklus v. Carlson, No. 77-1070 (M.D.Pa. Mar. 14, 1978), appeal dismissed as moot, 591 F.2d 1336 (3d Cir. 1979).

The district court adopted the recommendations of the magistrate. It also interpreted the Dancy decision as mandating that an individual sentenced to consecutive youth and adult terms be incarcerated in a YCA facility during service of the YCA sentence. It held that Thompson's difficulties as a prisoner could be handled by the provision of the YCA permitting segregation of classes of committed youth offenders. 18 U.S.C. § 5011. Therefore, the district court granted the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

On appeal, the Government argues that because there has been an intervening judicial determination that the prisoner would not derive benefit from YCA treatment during the service of his consecutive sentence, the YCA should be construed to allow the Bureau of Prisons to exercise its discretion in selecting an institution for the confinement of the prisoner during the remainder of his YCA sentence.


The Federal Youth Corrections Act

The YCA has been described by the Supreme Court as "the most comprehensive federal statute concerned with sentencing." Dorszynski v. United States, 418 U.S. 424, 432, 94 S. Ct. 3042, 3047, 41 L. Ed. 2d 855 (1974). Its provisions are designed to "make available for the discretionary use of the Federal judges a system for the sentencing and treatment of persons under the age of 22 years . . . that will promote the rehabilitation of those who . . . show promise of becoming useful citizens, and so will avoid the degenerative and needless transformation of many of these young persons into habitual criminals." H.R.Rep.No. 2979, 81st Cong., 2d Sess. 1 (1950), reprinted in (1950) U.S.Code Cong. Service p. 3983 (hereinafter "H.R.Rep.No. 2979").

Under the statute, a judge sentencing a youth offender, defined as "a person under the age of twenty-two years at the time of conviction," 18 U.S.C. § 5006(d), must determine whether the youth offender will derive benefit from treatment under the YCA. 18 U.S.C. § 5010(d).*fn1 In Dorzynski v. United States, supra, the Court held that the statute requires an explicit finding of "no benefit" as a condition precedent to sentencing an eligible offender as an adult, but also held that the sentencing judge need not accompany such a finding by supporting reasons. When the sentencing court does find that the youth offender could derive benefit from the YCA, the Act provides the sentencing court with options additional to those ordinarily available. 418 U.S. at 441-42, 94 S. Ct. at 3051-52. In the Dorzynski case, the Supreme Court reviewed in detail the history of the Act and described the options of treatment and probation made available to the federal sentencing court under the Act.

It noted that the purpose of the Act was "to provide a better method for treating young offenders convicted in federal courts in (the) vulnerable age bracket (between 16 and 22 years of age), to rehabilitate them and restore normal behavior patterns." 418 U.S. at 433, 94 S. Ct. at 3048.

To accomplish this objective, federal district judges were given two new alternatives to add to the array of sentencing options previously available to them . . . first, they were enabled to commit an eligible offender to the custody of the Attorney General for treatment under the Act. 18 U.S.C. § 5010(b) and (c). Second, if they believed an offender did not need commitment, they were authorized to place him on probation under the Act. 18 U.S.C. § 5010(a). If the sentencing ...

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