On October 1, 1971, a group of federal prisoners including well-known Vietnam War protester Father Phillip Berrigan, represented by attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the U.S. Parole Board, components of the U.S. Department of Justice. The plaintiffs requested a declaratory judgment that the defendants' disciplinary procedures violated the Due Process Clause and sought preliminary and permanent injunctions. They alleged, as well, that their First, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendment rights had been violated by retaliatory actions of the defendants.
The complaint arose out of a work stoppage and a hunger strike, which plaintiffs had first advocated and then engaged in. Afterwards, they alleged, their previously-ordered (but not yet effected) parole was rescinded, some were placed in segregated confinement, good time credit was withheld, and some were transferred to other facilities in the BOP system, including medical facilities. Moreover, the plaintiffs claimed, these actions were taken without prior notice to them or hearings of any type in which they or their counsel might have sought to protect the prisoners' interests.
The case was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. In the amended complaint, one plaintiff also sought a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2241, intending it to have the same effect (reinstatement of parole) as the previously requested relief.
An October 26, 1971, the District Court (Judge M. Joseph Blumenfeld) dismissed the case. Judge Blumenfeld first discussed that, while prisoners do not lose their right to freedom of expression just because they are incarcerated, that right is not absolute and must be balanced against prison authorities' needs for security and order. The judge determined that the actions of the Board of Parole did not violate substantive due process principles, ruling that the general standard of "maintenance of good prison conduct" provided sufficient guidance for Board decisions. As for procedural due process concerns, the Court found a distinction between parole recision and parole revocation: only the latter results in a deprivation of a released prisoner's freedom, whereas the former merely rescinds a decision otherwise applicable to an inmate who has not yet been released. Revocation requires affording procedural rights, but recision of orders granting parole (but which have not yet resulted in release) is within the Board's discretion.
Plaintiffs' claims of improper BOP administrative transfer decisions also failed. While the judge rejected defense efforts at dismissal based upon the plaintiffs' failure to exhaust administrative remedies (observing that exhaustion was not required where the record showed the Director of the BOP had made the transfer decisions, which would make pointless administrative appeals within his agency), the transfers of hunger strikers were made not as discipline but for reasons of health and were not an abuse of discretion, according to the District Court. As for the prisoners' claims based upon segregated confinement and withholding of good time, Judge Blumenfeld found that these BOP decisions were not made by the agency Director, so exhaustion of administrative remedies was required; consequently, such claims were dismissed, with renewal possible after exhaustion of the administrative process.
Although a Notice of Appeal was filed soon after the District Court's decision, the appeal was never docketed and, on January 24, 1974, plaintiff's counsel sent a memorandum to the court, withdrawing the appeal without prejudice. We don't know if the reason was a settlement. No further action seems to have taken place.Mike Fagan - 04/08/2008