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Issac Little v. B.A. Bledsoe

March 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Magistrate Judge Carlson)

(Judge Jones)


I. Introduction

This habeas corpus petition invites the Court to address a legal question regarding the application of the Second Chance Act, a 2008 federal statute designed to provide prison officials with greater discretion in assisting inmates in making the transition back into society by permitting prison officials to place inmates in Residential Re-entry Centers up to 12 months before they are released from custody. Specifically, this petition invites us to determine whether, and to what extent, the Second Chance Act gives a federal inmate with a history of disruptive violence at a maximum security prison a substantive right to early release to a halfway house or other non-custodial setting as he nears the conclusion of his prison term.

Although Little invites us to reach and resolve all of these constitutional issues, he extends this invitation to us without first having invited the Bureau of Prisons to address his concerns by filing a proper, timely, fully-exhausted administrative request for relief from this proposed RRC placement decision that Little now challenges.

It is recommended that the Court decline this invitation to address these legal issues since it is well-settled that a federal inmate who wishes to bring a habeas corpus petition based upon an alleged failure by prison staff to comply with the Second Chance Act must first fully exhaust administrative remedies within the prison system. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that exhaustion of these administrative remedies is a prerequisite to federal habeas corpus relief in this setting, and further find that Little has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, a failure which compels dismissal of this case.

II. Statement of Facts and of the Case

Issac Little is a federal inmate, who is housed in the Special Management Unit of the United States Penitentiary Lewisburg. Since his arrival at the Lewisburg Penitentiary in May 2010, Little has been cited for 16 different disciplinary infractions. (Doc. 7-1) These disciplinary violations have entailed instances of serious misconduct, including assaultive conduct and thee commission of sexual acts. (Doc. 7-1, p.21)

While Little was serving this federal sentence, in April of 2008, the Second Chance Act of 2007, Pub. L. No. 110-199, went into effect. This act contains several provisions which are designed to aid prisoners in their transition back into society. For example, the Act provides that, in its discretion, the Bureau of Prisons may place certain inmates in Residential Re-entry Centers (RRC) for as much as one year at the end of their prison terms to aid them in their readjustment into society. See 18 U.S.C. § 3624(c)(1).*fn1

In Little's case, the repeated episodes of serious institutional misconduct that marked his prison record have led prison officials to be reluctant to release Little into a less structured environment like a halfway house. Accordingly, in exercising their discretion under the Second Chance Act, 18 U.S.C. §3624 (c), correctional staff have not to date granted Little an early halfway house placement. (Doc. 7-1)

With respect to inmate concerns regarding RRC placements and other matters, the Bureau of Prisons has adopted a three-tiered administrative remedy procedure with respect to inmate complaints which is set forth at 28 C.F.R. § 542.10, et seq. As part of this grievance process, inmates should first present their complaints to staff, and staff are obliged to attempt to informally resolve any issues before an inmate files a formal request for Administrative Remedy. Id. at § 542.13(a). At the second stage of this process, if an inmate is unable to informally resolve his complaint, the inmate may file a formal written complaint to the warden, on the appropriate form within 20 calendar days of the date on which the events which form the basis for the complaint took place. Id. at § 542.14(a). If the inmate's concern is not addressed to the inmate's satisfaction by the warden's response, the inmate may then file an appeal to the Regional Director within 20 calendar days. Id. at § 542.15(a). Finally, if the inmate is dissatisfied with the Regional Director's response, that decision may then be appealed to the General Counsel (Central Office) within 30 calendar days from the date of the Regional Director's response. Id. The Regional Director then has 30 calendar days to respond and the General Counsel has 40 calendar days to address the inmate's concern. Id. at § 542.18.

As these regulations state: "The purpose of the Administrative Remedy Program is to allow an inmate to seek formal review of an issue relating to any aspect of his/her own imprisonment." 28 C.F.R. § 542.10(a). Under this grievance process: "If an inmate raises an issue in a request or appeal that cannot be resolved through the Administrative Remedy Program, the Bureau will refer the inmate to the appropriate statutorily-mandated procedures." Id. at § 542.10(c). Furthermore, under these procedures, no administrative remedy appeal is considered to have been fully exhausted until decided by the Central Office. 28 C.F.R. § 542, et seq.

While Little has clearly been notified of his proposed RRC placement by prison officials, it is equally clear that Little has not fully exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to this matter before proceeding to federal court. (Doc. 7-1) 10, Ex.2.) Indeed, while Little has filed fifteen administrative remedies during his federal imprisonment, (Doc. 7-1, Ex. 1, Declaration of Susan Albert & 3; Attach. 1, Administrative Remedy Generalized Retrieval), five of which have related to his RRC placement, to date none of these administrative remedies have been fully exhausted by the petitioner.

Instead, the record reveals only halting and incomplete efforts on Little's part, efforts hampered by his persistent failure to follow directions and submit properly documented administrative appeals. For example, on November 8, 2011, Little filed Administrative Remedy in which he disputed his case manager's decision to deny him halfway house placement due to his disruptive behavior and lack of institutional programming. (Id.,Ex. 1, Albert Decl. ¶4; Attach. 1, Administrative Remedy Generalized ...

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