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Stradford v. Wetzel

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2017



          Juan R. Sánchez, J.

         Plaintiffs Lacey Stradford, William Nettles, Jesse Stroud, and William Scott-on their own behalf and on behalf of a class of others similarly situated-bring this class action against John Wetzel, Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), asserting violations of their equal protection rights arising out the DOC's policy prohibiting convicted sex offenders from entering halfway houses until two years before their maximum sentence date. Defendant moves to dismiss the action for improper venue and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[1] Because the Court finds venue is proper in this District, Defendant's motion to dismiss this case for improper venue or alternatively have the case transferred will be denied. However, the Court finds Plaintiffs have failed to state an Equal Protection Clause violation, and will therefore grant Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         BACKGROUND [2]

         Plaintiffs are convicted sex offenders who have been granted parole but nonetheless remain incarcerated[3] because of a DOC policy denying eligibility for halfway house placement to paroled sex offenders until they are two years from their maximum sentence date, while other parolees are generally eligible for halfway house placement immediately upon being granted parole.

         Plaintiff Scott is currently incarcerated in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford. The remaining three Plaintiffs are currently, or have been, incarcerated in the Middle District of Pennsylvania-specifically, Plaintiff Stradford was incarcerated at SCI Hunlock Creek; Plaintiff Nettles is currently incarcerated at SCI Smithfield; and Plaintiff Stroud is currently incarcerated at SCI Benner Township.

         Typically, incarcerated individuals in Pennsylvania are statutorily eligible for parole consideration after the expiration of their minimum term of imprisonment. In considering whether to grant parole, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) conducts an investigation, evaluating the inmate's offense, criminal record, character and background, conduct in prison, and participation in treatment, as well as any recommendations of DOC staff, the assigned prosecutor, or the presiding judge.

         Sex offenders must satisfy additional requirements before being granted parole. First, sex offenders must complete DOC counseling and a therapy treatment program. Additionally, PBPP may require an evaluation from the Pennsylvania Sex Offenders Assessment Board-comprised of psychiatrists, psychologists, and criminal justice experts-before granting parole to a convicted sex offender.

         A parolee, before being released, must first secure approved housing. The DOC operates halfway houses known as Community Correction Centers (CCC) and Community Contract Facilities (CCF), which predominantly house parolees as they transition from prison into the community. Because of the difficulties in securing housing while incarcerated, or as an express condition of parole, many parolees live at a CCC or CCF immediately upon release from prison. While living at these halfway houses, parolees are assisted in finding an approved home plan and employment, and the residents have access to outpatient treatment services, including sex offender treatment.

         Unlike other parolees, who typically are able to move to a CCC or CCF upon being granted parole, convicted sex offenders are barred CCC/CCF placement, even if they have already been granted parole, until two years before their maximum sentence expiration date.

         Plaintiffs have been granted parole, but have been unable to secure approved housing. Because they are classified as sex offenders, Plaintiffs are not eligible for CCC/CCF placement until two years before their maximum sentence date. Accordingly, Plaintiffs will remain incarcerated, despite being approved for parole, until they are eligible for CCC/CCF placement. As a result, Plaintiffs have been in prison years after being granted parole.

         Wetzel, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania DOC, is responsible for implementing the DOC's policies and practices, including the policy at issue here.


         A. Venue and Transfer

         Although Defendant moves for dismissal for improper venue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1406, he conceded at oral argument that venue in this District is proper. In any event, the Court notes that venue in this case is indeed proper. Under the federal venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391, a civil action may be brought in “a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). Although the policy in question here was developed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, it has been carried out in this District, affecting inmates, including Scott, incarcerated in this District. Venue is therefore proper. See, e.g., Chimenti v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corr., No. 15-3333, 2016 WL 1125580, at *10 (E.D. Pa. Mar. ...

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