The title of this post is inspired by Professor Michael Tigar's post on his blog TigarBytes entitled "Private Prisons are Unconstitutional," which was highlighted in Professor's Berman's sentencing blog. Based on Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927), Ward v. Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57 (1972), and other cases, Prof. Tigar contends that contracts requiring the feds to send enough people to prison to fill up 80-100% of beds in private prisons are troubling and raise serious due process concerns. He ends his post with the "hope that someone will start to litigate these issues."
I echo that thought. One such issue I've raised is whether due process prohibits private prison employees from taking away good time credit (GTC) for disciplinary violations where the corporation that runs the prison has a financial incentive to keep its prison cells full. While inmates may challenge the disallowance of federal GTC through a § 2241 petition in federal court, it is exceedingly difficult. They are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney and rarely have the funds to hire an attorney. And courts often require that they first go through the Bureau of Prison's legal obstacle course to exhaust their administrative remedies, all with limited legal access and without the help of counsel.
I raised this issue, however, in a successful appeal last year after the Ninth Circuit, on its own, appointed counsel. In Arrendondo-Virula v. Adler, No. 10-17654 (9th Cir. Feb. 14, 2013), the Ninth Circuit gave my client back 27 days of GTC that was taken away as discipline imposed by an employee of Mangement and Training Corporation (MTC), which operates the private federal prison in Taft, California. The Court did not reach the due process issue though. Rather, the Court agreed that the then-applicable BOP regulation provided that "only institution staff" could take disciplinary action under 28 C.F.R. §541.10(b)(1) and that the taking away of GTC was unlawful because the MTC employee did not qualify as BOP "institution staff."
The BOP regulation, however, is no longer in effect and the due process question is ripe for litigation. To jump start anyone out there who may be interested in litigating this constitutional challenge, here's the excerpt from my opening brief that raises the unresolved due process issue. [Update: Here's Prof. Tigar's response to this post].