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Heim v. Dauphin County Prison

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 1, 2013

JOSEPH HEIM, Plaintiff
DAUPHIN COUNTY PRISON, et al., Defendants


A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Joseph Heim, an individual formerly incarcerated at the Dauphin County Prison (DCP), in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, [1] initiated this civil rights Complaint on August 10, 2010, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when money in his possession upon his readmission to the prison was confiscated and applied towards his pre-existing debt for room and board at the DCP. (Doc. 1, Compl.) As relief, Mr. Heim seeks reimbursement of all funds illegally confiscated as well as the expungement of his entire "room and board" debt incurred as a result of his various commitments to the DCP. ( Id. )

On August 31, 2011, the Court granted in part, and denied in part, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint.[2] See Doc. 36. The Court dismissed Mr. Heim's First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claim as well as his Equal Protection claim. ( Id. ) As a result, Mr. Heim's Eighth Amendment excessive fines claim based on the implementation and enforcement of DCP's Room and Board Policy is the sole remaining claim. ( Id. )

Currently before the Court is the Dauphin County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 46, Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.) Mr. Heim opposes the motion which is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgement.

II. Statement of Undisputed Facts

For the purposes of Defendants' motion for summary judgment, the following facts are uncontroverted, deemed admitted, or where disputed, viewed in the light most favorable to Mr. Heim.[3]

Rebecca Venneri has held the position of Treatment Coordinator at the DCP since February 2001. (Doc. 48, Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (DSMF), § 1.) The DCP Treatment Department provides counseling, education, operation, and community connections services to approximately 1, 000 inmates at any given time. (DSMF § 2; see also Doc. 48-2, Ex. A, Venneri Aff., pp. 7-30.) The Counseling Department, one section of the DCP's Treatment Department, provides group and individual counseling, therapeutic community programs, and casework advocacy services. (DSMF § 3.) A treatment plan is completed for each inmate at DCP to determine which groups they will be recommended to attend based on their individual needs. ( Id. ) Counseling services include, among other things, second change drug and alcohol, relapse prevention, addictive/compulsive behaviors, violence intervention, support skills, sex offenders, and domestic violence recovery. ( Id. § 4.) The Education Department, the second section of DCP's Treatment Department, provides GED/ABE, life skills, job skill, and library services to inmates. ( Id. § 5.) The third section of DCP's Treatment Department, the Operations Department, is responsible for assigning inmates to housing and classification, trusty status, outside job details, and makes parole recommendations. ( Id. § 6.) The Community Connections Section, the fourth section of the Treatment Department, provides religious programming to inmates through its two full-time chaplains, two part-time clerks and over 300 volunteers and covers all religions. ( Id. § 7.) Services offered by the DCP's Treatment Department are outlined in the jail's Inmate Hand Book. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 27-31.) The services offered by the Treatment Department, were available to Mr. Heim, and all other inmates, during the time Mr. Heim was incarcerated at the DCP. (DSMF § 10.)

Based on Ms. Venneri's years of experience in correctional treatment, she notes that returning inmates require significantly more assistance with housing, job skills, and treatment for drug and alcohol addictions. ( Id. § 8.) These issues must be addressed in addition to modifying the offenders' criminal ways of thinking and equip them with living skills in order to reduce incidents of recidivism. ( Id. § 9.) Inmates that are more likely to be recommitted have lost jobs, housing, and family support. ( Id. § 11.) Therefore, these inmates need, and benefit from, assistance with learning job skills, community resources, and housing upon release. ( Id. § 11.) Likewise, inmates failing out of drug court and mental health programs continue to need additional help in treating their addiction and/or learning life and coping skills. ( Id. § 12.) The more often an inmate enters DCP, especially without prior treatment or programming, their criminal way of thinking becomes more ingrained. ( Id. § 13.) Thus, it takes more time and effort for counselors to help them change these thought patterns. ( Id. )

The Dauphin County Board of Prison Inspectors (Prison Board) is the governing body for the DCP and is solely responsible for the adoption and enactment of policy governing the operation of the facility such as the Fee for Room and Board Policy. ( Id. § 23.) On September 19, 1996, the Prison Board enacted and adopted the Fee for Room and Board Policy. ( Id. § 24; Doc. 48-4, pp. 6-15.) Prior to the Prison Board adopting the policy, it was reviewed and slightly revised by the Prison Board's Solicitor. (Doc. 48-4, pp. 13-14.) Neither Warden DeRose, Deputy Warden Elizabeth Nichols, Deputy Warden Leonard Carroll, the Business Office, nor Business Manager Freddie McNeal were members of the Prison Board in September 1996. (DSMF § 24; Doc. 48-4, pp. 6-15.) These individuals were not responsible for the adoption or enactment of the policy. (DSMF § 25.) Their role has been liited to administering the policy. ( Id. ) Defendants submit a signed copy of the Fee for Room and Board Policy. (Doc. 48-4, pp. 17-19.) The policy is also found in the DCP Inmate Handbook which is normally issued to inmates upon their admission to the prison. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 38-39; Doc. 59-2, p. 2.) Mr. Heim confirms that to his knowledge the Room and Board Policy was applied to each inmate committed to the DCP. (Doc. 59-2, p. 2.)

The Fee for Room and Board Policy states that inmates sentenced to the DCP are responsible for reimbursing the DCP for room and board costs. (Doc. 48-2, p. 17.) Inmates committed and sentenced to the DCP for the first time after the implementation of the policy are responsible for paying $10.00 per day for room and board. ( Id., p. 18.) Individuals who are recommitted, or receive new sentences to be served at the DCP, "will be responsible for paying a per diem which is increased by five dollars [$5.00] for each commitment period after the first commitment after implementation of this program." ( Id. ) "The total per diem rate will not exceed the average cost per day to house an inmate at the Dauphin County prison [based on the previous years average cost].[4] ( Id. ) Within thirty (30) days of discharge from the DCP, the unpaid balance of the inmate's room and board fees is due. ( Id. ) If an inmate does not establish a payment plan with the prison, the invoice is turned over to a collection agency. ( Id. ) "Balances not satisfied through a collection agency will be recorded on an inmates permanent record. Should an inmate be recommitted, the inmate will be required to pay any outstanding balance on their record." ( Id. ) "Therefore, at the time of recommitment, inmates will be assessed 100% of any money in their possession" toward any unpaid balance. (Doc. 1-2, p. 39.)

DCP Counselors spend more time with individuals who have been recommitted to the DCP for the reasons previously identified. (DSMF § 13.) The increased fee charged returning inmates is one way for the DCP to recover the increased expenses incurred by providing treatment services to these habitual offenders. ( Id. § 14.)

Mr. Heim disputes that he received "significantly more assistance" from the Treatment Department with housing, job skills, and treatment for drug and alcohol addictions upon his repeated commitments to DCP. He claims Defendants' premise for the increased room and board fee a ruse because "there were simply no such programs and services available at the prison" for recommited inmates. (Doc. 53, Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (PSMF), § 8.) Yet, Mr. Heim does not dispute that he did participate in numerous programs offered by the Treatment Department as early as 1993.[5] (PSMF § 16; DSMF § 16.) Defendants provide a list of the treatment programs Mr. Heim participated in during his various stays at the DCP. See Doc. 49-2, pp. 33-36; PSMF § 16. Among the programs Mr. Heim participated in were: drug and alcohol education; AIDS awareness; Bible study; relapse prevention (on multiple occasions); life skills, addictive/compulsive behaviors, support skills, violence intervention, and the LASER program. ( Id.; and DSMF § 16.) Mr. Heim believes that the time he spent in the LASER program was beneficial. (DSMF § 18.)

In April 2010, Mr. Heim was recommitted to the DCP as a parole violator. (Doc. 1, p. 8.) At the time of his readmission, he had a $30.00 check in his possession which was confiscated by prison officials for payment of delinquent room and board ...

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