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BOP Good Time Regulation Promulgated in Violation of the APA; No Relief for Violation Ninth Circuit Holds

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regulation affording federal prisoners 54 days of good conduct time (GCT) for each year served was promulgated in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held, July 3, 2008. The Court, however, declined to provide any relief for the violation, finding BOP’s longstanding interpretation of the federal good time statute to be “Reasonable and persuasive.”

Ishmael Tablada, a prisoner at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Tablada alleged that 28 C.F.R. § 523.20, the regulation interpreting 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b), the federal good time statute, was promulgated in violation of the APA. According to Tablada, the BOP failed to articulate a rational basis for its interpretation of § 3624(b).

Under § 3624(b), BOP is authorized to award up to 54 days of good time “at the end of each year of the prisoner’s term of imprisonment.” BOP interprets this provision to mean that good time is awarded based on the amount of time served. For instance, the first 54 days of good time is not awarded until after the prisoner completes 365 days of incarceration. During the last year of incarceration, the BOP prorates good time credits, awarding 0.148 days credit for each days actually served that year.

Not surprisingly, BOP’s construction of the good time statute was the subject of much litigation. Federal prisoners across the nation argued that good time should be awarded based on the sentence imposed rather than time actually served. A sentence of ten years would produce 540 days of good time (54x10=540) under the sentence imposed method, whereas only 470 days would result using BOP’s admittedly “complicated” time served formula. Unfortunately, each of the prisoners’ challenges was rejected.

However, given the existence of two plausible interpretations of the statute, Tablada argued that the BOP’s failure to explain why it chose the time served method over the sentence imposed method rendered the subsequent regulation, 28 C.F.R. § 523.20, invalid. In the absence of § 523.20, Tablada argued that the BOP should be forced to use the sentence imposed method. Nonetheless, BOP argued that its time served interpretation should remain in place. The Ninth Circuit agreed. The BOP’s time served interpretation of the good time statute has been consistently applied since 1988, the Court held, and is “reasonable and persuasive.”

Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. See: Tablada v. Thomas, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 29109

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Related legal case

Tablada v. Thomas