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Watson v. Woods

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

September 17, 2019

GEORGE ALEXANDER WATSON, Reg. No. 70398-019, Petitioner,
WALTER WOODS, Respondent.



         I. INTRODUCTION [1]

         This case is before the court on a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by George Alexander Watson. At the time he filed the instant petition, Watson was incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama, serving a 37-month sentence followed by 3 years of supervised release imposed upon him on November 9, 2016 by the Unites States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, upon his conviction for wire fraud. Doc 1 at 1; Doc. 12-1 at 2-4. In this petition, Watson contends the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) violated his due process and equal protection rights by deeming him ineligible for placement in the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) and thereby denying him the ability to potentially obtain an early release pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3261(e). For the reasons that follow, this court concludes that Watson is not entitled to habeas corpus relief.


         Watson began serving his sentence in the custody of the BOP on January 9, 2017 and was released from his term of incarceration on August 23, 2019. Doc. 29-1 at 2. It is undisputed that Watson participated in the non-residential drug abuse program (NRDAP) while incarcerated in federal custody. On February 27, 2017, after assessment of relevant documents, a Drug Treatment Specialist (DTS) with the BOP determined Watson was not eligible for participation in the Residential Drug Abuse Program. Doc. 12-3 at 7.[2] Specifically, the specialist found as follows:

Inmate WATSON's records [in his] central file do not appear to provide verification establishing a pattern of substance abuse or dependence within the 12 months prior to his arrest for his current instant offense. Per the PSI and SENTRY documentation, Mr. WATSON was detained in November 2016. Inmate Watson['s] PSR indicates he first consumed alcohol at the age of 6 and periodically consumed a sip of beer. He consumed one beer daily from his mid 20s to age 32 and one alcoholic beverage monthly from ages 32 to 36. He used marijuana socially at monthly gatherings from ages 16 to 20. He used cocaine once at age 22. He used LSD twice when he was age 16. He used heroin or opiates daily from ages 31 to 33. He entered Michigan Detox Specialists on August 2, 2012 and discharged on August 5, 2012. Inmate Watson indicated he has been clean since the rapid detox [in] 2012. . . . .
Based on the observations above, inmate WATSON has not been referred to the DAP Coordinator for a diagnostic interview.

         Doc. 12-3 at 7.

         Watson initiated the BOP's administrative remedy process by challenging this decision in a request for relief to the warden and seeking a diagnostic interview by the coordinator of the RDAP. Doc. 12-5 at 2-3. The warden denied this request. Doc. 12-5 at 4. In so doing, the warden informed Watson that:

A review of your case shows you were reviewed for consideration for RDAP and advised that you did not qualify for an RDAP Diagnostic Interview on February 28, 2017. Current policy (Program Statement 5330.11, Psychology Treatment Programs) states that, in order for an inmate to be referred for a diagnostic interview, the assigned screener will review the inmate's Central File and other collateral sources of documentation to determine if there is verification of a pattern of substance abuse or dependence within the 12-month period prior to the inmate's arrest on his current offense. A review of your central file showed your arrest date as November 9, 2016. A review of your Presentence Investigative Report (PSR) showed that you consumed alcohol infrequently (“one beer daily from his mid-20's to age 32 and one alcoholic beverage monthly from ages 32 to 36”), had not consumed marijuana for over 10 years, had not used LSD since age 16, and had “used cocaine once at age 22.” Although your PSR reflected your daily use of opiates “from ages 31 to 33” (roughly 2009 to 2012), it also reflected that you underwent rapid detox treatment from August 2 to August 5, 2012. On August 5, 2012, you were discharged and “advised to stay on Naltrexone maintenance therapy for one year. [Watson] indicated he has been clean since the rapid detox.”
Following your initial disqualification in February 2017, you provided the collateral documentation that you attached to this administrative remedy request - records from Dr. Michael Gordon, MD, referencing the treatment provided in 2012. That information does not document substance abuse or dependence within the 12 months prior to November 9, 2016. In your request, you referred to having “restarted addition counseling and treatment, which I continued until my self-surrender January 2017.” However, you have not submitted records from that treatment as additional collateral documentation. The information you [have] submitted from Dr. Gordon documents recommendations of “counseling” and “NA” (presumed to be Narcotics Anonymous), but provides no documentation that you underwent the counseling you describe or participated in Narcotics Anonymous. In your Informal Complaint Resolution, fled May 12, 2017, you stated that your PSR “verifies continued prescribed treatment (Narcotics Anonymous) from '12 to '16.” No. such information exists in your PSR. Therefore, of the information you have submitted for review as supplementary documentation for consideration for RDAP, none of it provides evidence to confirm an existing pattern of substance abuse or dependence within the 12 months prior to your arrest for your current offense.
Consequently, you remain unqualified for referral for an RDAP Diagnostic Interview, and were determined unqualified for RDAP in a manner consistent with policy. You were advised of the treatment alternatives (e.g., the Non-Residential DAP) and the types of supplemental information that may be reviewed for possible further verification of substance abuse or dependence prior to your arrest. Should such information be received in the future, it will be examined an considered for possible RDAP qualification.
For relief, you requested an RDAP Diagnostic Interview. Based on the above information, your request for Administrative Remedy is denied.

         Doc. 12-5 at 4.

         Watson appealed the warden's decision in which he alleged “being unjustly denied participation” in the Residential Drug Abuse Program and “request[ing] a clinical interview with the RDAP Coordinator and eventual admission into RDAP.” Doc. 12-5 at 6. The Regional Director denied this appeal because “[a]lthough [your] records do indicate a history of substance abuse, the Substance Abuse section of your PSR indicates no pattern of problematic use within the twelve months prior to your arrest. . . . Since the information provided by a physician details services rendered years before the 12-month time frame required for program consideration, it fails to meet the criteria regarding acceptable independent verification of a substance use disorder. You are therefore unqualified for the RDAP in accordance with policy.” Doc. 12-5 at 6. Watson's final appeal to the Central Office was likewise denied “based on the fact that there is no verifiable documentation to support your participation in RDAP. As required by policy, you have not provided any documentation to substantiate drug or alcohol abuse within the 12 months prior to being arrested for your current offense.” Doc. 12-5 at 9.

         Upon the exhaustion of his available administrative remedies, Watson filed this 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition for habeas corpus relief. In this petition, Watson challenges the constitutionality of the BOP's decision to deny him referral to the RDAP coordinator for a diagnostic review based on the finding that he did not have a verifiable substance use disorder within the 12-month period before his arrest on his current offense as required by 28 C.F.R. 550.53(b)(1) and was therefore ineligible for RDAP participation. Doc. 1 at 6. He further alleges that “[t]he Bureau applies the stated ‘12-month' rule with bias and discrimination” as some inmates are placed in the RDAP with no drug use for several years prior to their arrest. Doc. 1 at 6.


         A. Due Process

         Watson argues that the BOP acted improperly by deeming him ineligible for placement in the RDAP at FPC Montgomery which resulted in his ineligibility for an early release pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3261(e), a benefit potentially available to inmates who successfully complete the RDAP. Watson alleges that, in his opinion, the information provided to BOP officials established a verifiable substance abuse problem within the requisite 12-month period so as to render him eligible for placement in the RDAP.

         The respondent submitted declarations from Juliana Dodd, the Chief Psychologist at FCP Montgomery, addressing this claim. In her initial declaration, Ms. Dodd maintains that:

The BOP provides both a Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) and a non-residential program. BOP Program Statement 5330.11, Psychology Treatment Programs (dated March 16, 2009} (formerly Program Statement 5330.01, Drug Abuse Program Manual), establishes the procedures and requirements for these programs. Bureau policy provides there are more stringent requirements to qualify for RDAP. Upon completion of RDAP the inmate may be eligible for getting up to a year off his/her sentence.
RDAP is a voluntary program. Inmates are informed in Admission and Orientation (A&O) that they may request RDAP review by submitting an Inmate Request to Staff form (more commonly known as a “cop-out”) to Psychology staff. Once a cop-out is received, the first step is for the inmate to be screened. The screening is essentially a document review. This means we will review the inmate's central file and other collateral sources of documentation to determine if, among other things, there is verification that can establish a pattern of substance abuse or dependence. Only if the inmate has ...

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