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JACKSON v. THORNBURGH

December 13, 1988

Marline Jackson, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Richard Thornburgh, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

 CHARLES R. RICHEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 Overcrowding at the prisons of the District of Columbia, primarily at Lorton Reformatory, the District of Columbia's single maximum security prison, is a disaster rapidly becoming a disgrace. The problem has occupied this Court and others on dozens of occasions over several decades, and no end is presently in sight. For the time being, the government of the District of Columbia alone has the power to remedy the problem, but it must do so soon.

 In a limited effort to alleviate the problem, the Council of the District of Columbia has passed the "District of Columbia Good Time Credits Act of 1986" (the "Act"). D.C. Code § 24-428, et seq. The Act authorizes the calculation of "good time" credits against the sentences of prisoners who have been convicted by courts of the District of Columbia and who are "imprisoned in a District correctional facility." Both on its face and as applied, the Act has no application to those prisoners convicted by a local court of the District of Columbia who are incarcerated in federal institutions. *fn1" The Act's net effect, in certain situations, is to reduce the minimum sentence that prisoners at District prisons must serve, and to perhaps cause them to be eligible for parole earlier than they might be otherwise. The Act is different from its federal good time counterpart, which reduces only a prisoner's maximum sentence and therefore has no effect upon a prisoner's eligibility for parole. *fn2"

 The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings. There appears to be no dispute over material facts, and the matter is ripe for a decision on the merits of the plaintiffs' claims. The Court holds that summary judgment shall be granted in favor of the defendants.

 DISCUSSION

 The Act, in limiting its benefits to those prisoners housed in District prisons, does not violate the constitutional rights of prisoners housed elsewhere. As will be shown, the Act's distinction between prisoners assigned to serve their terms in District prisons and prisoners assigned to the federal system does not discriminate against a suspect class, does not infringe upon a fundamental right, and is "rationally related to a legitimate state interest," City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 440, 87 L. Ed. 2d 313, 105 S. Ct. 3249 (1985). Accordingly, the Act must be sustained.

 Before elaborating on this holding, however, it is necessary to dispose of a preliminary issue raised in the plaintiffs' complaint. Plaintiffs' complaint, although not necessarily their subsequent briefing, seeks to characterize this action as one involving gender-based discrimination. The plaintiffs thus seek a standard of review more stringent than that permitted under the "rational basis" test; they seek equal protection review under the line of cases that evaluate gender-based distinctions pursuant to a more searching, "intermediate standard." See, e.g., Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 50 L. Ed. 2d 397, 97 S. Ct. 451 (1976).

 The purported gender-based discrimination in this case arises from the fact that the District of Columbia maintains no facilities for housing women sentenced to prison terms exceeding one year. Accordingly, all women serving terms greater than one year, such as the plaintiffs, are required to be housed in federal prisons, and are for that reason necessarily unable to enjoy the benefits of the Act. The plaintiffs allege in their complaint that this system, operating in conjunction with the Act's geographical limitation, unconstitutionally isolates female prisoners such as themselves for disparate treatment.

 However, this Court holds that the Act, whether viewed facially or as applied, does not create a disadvantaged class of female prisoners. Assuming, arguendo, that such a disadvantaged class exists, it has been created, not by the Act, but by the District's failure to provide facilities for women such as the plaintiffs, and relatedly, by the system of assigning certain prisoners to District prisons and certain prisoners to federal prisons. These factors, not the Act, have created the class of which the plaintiffs are members. The Act itself does nothing more than confer a benefit upon a discrete class, membership in which is formally unrelated to gender; other statutory mechanisms, not at issue here, work to exclude females sentenced to terms exceeding one year from membership in this discrete class.

 Moreover, the purportedly disadvantaged class here contains considerable diversity; it includes many more potential plaintiffs than simply females sentenced to over one year. Males, sentenced to prison terms of all kinds, are also housed in federal prisons. Simply because a larger disadvantaged class perhaps includes, but is not limited to, a smaller group, it cannot be said that the defining statute discriminates against that smaller group. The existence of diversity in the allegedly disadvantaged class, undeniably present here, simply belies the presumption of discrimination which justifies heightened review, and which is at the heart of the protections of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. *fn4"

 Given that the Act does not define a class entitled to heightened review, it is therefore appropriate to evaluate the Act under the so called "rational basis" test. *fn5" Under this analysis, a legislative enactment will pass constitutional muster so long as it is rationally related to a legitimate state goal. Lyng v. Castillo, 477 U.S. 635, 106 S. Ct. 2727, 2730, 91 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1986); Hodel v. Indiana, 452 U.S. 314, 331-32, 69 L. Ed. 2d 40, 101 S. Ct. 2376 (1981); McGinnis v. Royster, 410 U.S. 263, 270, 35 L. Ed. 2d 282, 93 S. Ct. 1055 (1973).

 The principal motivating purpose behind the Act was, and is, to reduce the egregious overcrowding problem at the District's prisons. Although there is a dearth of legislative history regarding the Act, what little there is makes clear that overcrowding was the Act's principal focus. Indeed, the Committee that proposed the Act initially was created to avoid the appointment of a special master to address the overcrowding problem at the Lorton facility, a move first threatened by Judge June Green of this Court in Twelve John Does v. District of Columbia, 668 F. Supp. 20 (D.D.C. 1987). Report, Council of the District of Columbia, at 2 (November 13, 1985). Further, the Council's Report opens its discussion of the Act's "Background and Need" by stating that the Act is one of several initiatives intended to address the District's "unprecedented overcrowding problem in its correctional institutions." Id. at 2. Although the scant legislative history does include references to goals other than population control, there can be no doubt that the reduction of overcrowding at Lorton and the District's jails was the moving force behind the Act's adoption. Further, there can be no question, and the plaintiffs do not dispute, that reduction of prison overcrowding is a ...


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