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Ninth Circuit Upholds BOP Boot Camp Termination

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) did not violate the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) or a prisoner’s constitutional rights when it terminated its boot camp program.

Congress passed a law in 1990, authorizing BOP to implement a boot camp program. By rule, prisoners who successfully completed the program were eligible for up to six months off their sentence. Someone with a 30-month sentence would serve the sentence in three phases: 6 months of boot camp, 4-6 months in a community corrections center, and about 12 months of home confinement, for a total of 24 months.

On May 5, 2003, Nora Luz Serrato pleaded guilty to a federal drug crime. She was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and four years of supervised release. The court recommended that BOP consider Serrato for boot camp. Serrato was confined by BOP at a minimum security prison. She requested transfer to boot camp and, on November 17, 2004, her case worker said she may be eligible.

On November 22, 2004, Serrato’s case worker learned that boot camp was being closed due to budget issues and a study which showed the program failed to reduce recidivism.

Serrato filed a habeas corpus petition, arguing that termination of boot camp violated the APA, separation of powers, and ex post facto prohibitions, and the court’s retroactivity doctrine. The district court disagreed.

Following Lincoln v. Vigil, 508 U.S. 182 (1993), the Ninth Circuit held that the BOP did not violate the APA. In rejecting the separation of powers argument, the court concluded that termination of boot camp did not impermissibly alter or amend a Sentencing Guideline or otherwise impinge on Congress, the Sentencing Commission, or the judiciary.

The Court rejected Serrato’s ex post facto challenge, concluding that she had received only a recommendation for, not a vested right to, boot camp and its sentence reduction credits. Therefore, the court found her case distinguished from Lynce v. Mathis, 519 U.S. 433 (1997) and Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24 (1981). The court acknowledged a contrary holding in Castellini v. Lappin, 365 FSupp 2d 197 (D. Mass 2005) but noted that the case was later dismissed and it was not binding precedent, in any event.

Similarly, the Court rejected Serrato’s argument that boot camp termination was impermissible retroactive agency action, as in Bowen v. Hood, 202 F3d 1211 (9th Cir. 2000) and Cort v. Crabtree, 113 F3d 1081 (9th Cir. 1997). “Unlike the inmates, in Bowen and Cort, Serrato was never officially notified of eligibility for boot camp. There is thus no basis for concluding that BOP has flouted the ‘rule of law’ within the meaning of Bowen.” See: Serrato v. Clark, 486 F.3d 560 (9th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Serrato v. Clark