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BOP Abused Its Discretion in Denying Prisoner Drug Treatment

By Brandon Sample

On June 5, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia granted a habeas corpus petition challenging the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) refusal to allow a prisoner to enter BOP's Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP).

Ralph Smith, a prisoner at the Federal Satellite Low Facility in Jesup, Georgia, sought treatment through the RDAP for past drug and alcohol abuse. The BOP, however, denied Smith entrance into the RDAP based on a lack of documentation of substance abuse within twelve months of his incarceration. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Smith sought relief via a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

BOP argued in the district court that it was a proper exercise of its discretion to deny Smith the RDAP based on its policy of requiring proof of substance abuse within twelve months of incarceration. According to the BOP, the so-called "twelve months preceding" requirement represented a "considered application" of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM-IV) referenced in BOP's program statement. Further, BOP relied on decisions from several district courts that have upheld the policy.

In a thoughtful opinion, the district court rejected each of the BOP's arguments. First, the court concluded that the "twelve months preceding" requirement was not based on any statute, BOP regulation or program statement, but instead was a "practice" used in determining RDAP eligibility. And while BOP claimed that it was applying this "practice" uniformly, the court found otherwise. Finally, the court declined to follow the decisions of other district courts that have upheld the "practice," finding none of them to be persuasive.

Accordingly, the court granted Smith's habeas petition holding BOP's use of the "twelve months preceding" requirement to deny Smith the RDAP to be an "unreasonable exercise of discretion." See: Smith v. Vazquez, 491 F.Supp.2d 1165 (S.D. Ga. 2007).

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Related legal case

Smith v. Vazquez