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Ninth Circuit Upholds BOP's Authority to Set Payment Schedules Under IFRP

By Brandon Sample

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is free to use its Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) to collect restitution from prisoners in amounts different than those set by a defendant's sentencing court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided October 9, 2008.

Chris Lemoine, a federal prisoner, was ordered to pay $2,835,126.88 in restitution pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) after pleading guilty to wire fraud. Lemoine's sentencing judge set Lemoine's restitution payment schedule at "not less than $25 per quarter" while incarcerated, and $500 a month while on supervised release.

After Lemoine arrived at the Federal Correctional institution in Sheridan, Oregon, Lemoine enrolled in the IFRP. The IFRP's stated purpose is to assist prisoners in meeting their legitimate financial obligations, such as restitution. As a condition of participating in the program, BOP required Lemoine to pay $132 toward his restitution each month. Had Lemoine refused to participate in the IFRP, he would have been subjected to various restrictions such as a reduced commissary spending limit, reduction in pay, and placement in the lowest housing status.

Fed up with the BOP setting payment schedules above the $25 floor established by his sentencing court, Lemoine filed a habeas corpus petition. Lemoine argued that the BOP lacked the authority to increase his payment schedule beyond $25 a quarter without court approval because the MVRA vested courts with the exclusive authority over the timing and manner of payment of restitution.

The district court agreed. In doing so, the court rejected the BOP's contention that Lemoine's participation in the IFRP was voluntary. The only reason Lemoine "agreed" to participate in the IFRP was to avoid the adverse consequences for failing to do so, the court concluded. Accordingly, the court ordered the BOP to maintain Lemoine's payment at $25 per quarter.

The BOP appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed. "[N]othing in the text of the [MVRA] or our prior decisions places any limits on the BOP's operation of an independent program, such as the IFRP, that encourages inmates to voluntarily make more generous restitution payments than mandated in their respective judgments," the Ninth Circuit wrote.
Moreover, the fact that Lemoine would be subjected to certain adverse conditions of confinement for failing to participate in the IFRP was of no consequence. "The use of incentives to encourage compliance in a rehabilitative program [like the IFRP] does not render it unconstitutional," the Ninth Circuit held. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was reversed.

See: U.S. v. Lemoine, 546 F.3d 1042 (9th Cir. 2008).

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Related legal case

United States v. Lemoine