Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Benton Division. No. 81 C 4504 -- Kenneth J. Meyers, Magistrate.
Cummings, Chief Judge, Wood and Coffey, Circuit Judges.
Petitioner-appellant, Carlos Hornsby, a federal prisoner, was found guilty by the prison's Institution Disciplinary Committee ("IDC") of assault, refusing to obey a staff member's order and being in an unauthorized area. Following its decision, the IDC ordered Hornsby to forfeit 460 days of statutory good time.*fn1
Hornsby filed an administrative appeal, claiming that the IDC took away more good time than he had earned, thus violating an administrative regulation.*fn2 Hornsby filed a habeas corpus action following unsuccessful efforts to resolve his claim through the administrative appeal process. In his petition, Hornsby set forth three claims: (1) the IDC violated his due process rights by imposing a forfeiture penalty of 460 days of good time when petitioner had only 430 days available for forfeiture; (2) the respondent prison officials violated petitioner's due process rights by not adhering to their regulations regarding administrative appeals and by frustrating Hornsby's right to correct the error made by the IDC; and (3) the IDC relied upon insufficient evidence to find petitioner guilty of the acts charged. Hornsby requested the district court to expunge the IDC finding of guilty and restore the forfeited good time.
The district court held an evidentiary hearing, at which respondents admitted that the IDC erred in ordering forfeiture of more good time than Hornsby had earned.*fn3 Respondents agreed to amend the prison records to show a forfeiture of 436 days, the amount of good time they claimed Hornsby had earned as of the date of the IDC action. The district court found for respondents on Hornsby's other two claims.
Hornsby raises several issues on appeal. First, he argues that the correct computation of the good time he had available for forfeiture was 430 days, not 436. Second, petitioner asserts that respondents violated his procedural due process rights by violating administrative regulations, requiring review of IDC proceedings, during petitioner's appeal of the IDC action. Finally, Hornsby contends that the appropriate relief, in view of the alleged violations of his due process rights, is restoration of all of the good time ordered forfeited by the IDC.*fn4
Petitioner is currently serving a ten year sentence. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4161, he earns ten days of good time for each month served in prison. When Hornsby committed the offenses of which he was found guilty by the IDC, he had served fifty-two months and eighteen days of his sentence and had forfeited previously ninety days in good time credits. By statute and administrative regulation, the IDC was barred from ordering forfeiture of more good time than Hornsby had earned at the time of the offense.*fn5 The crucial question is how the eighteen days are to be counted in computing the amount of good time "earned" and therefore available for forfeiture. Petitioner asserts that good time credits accrue monthly and that good time credits for a particular month of a prisoner's sentence can be forfeited only after that month is completed. Respondents contend that prison officials may determine the amount of good time credits earned for a particular month on a pro-rata basis.
Thus, in the present case, respondents argue that Hornsby earns ten days of good time per month or one day of good time for every three days served. Therefore, in eighteen days, Hornsby earns six days of good time credit. Respondents compute petitioner's available good time by multiplying the number of months served (fifty-two) by the applicable monthly rate (ten days per month) and adding six days earned for the eighteen days served, for a total of 526. Subtracting the ninety days previously forfeited, respondents claim that Hornsby had 436 days of good time subject to forfeiture. Hornsby contends that he earned no good time for the partial month of incarceration and that respondents' calculation, consequently, is six days too high.
Our research has not disclosed any cases discussing how to compute correctly the good time available for forfeiture when a partial month is involved. The statute speaks in terms of so many days of good time "for each month" of a prisoner's sentence, depending on the length of the sentence. Similarly, the regulation is couched in terms of months, not days: "the statutory good time available for forfeiture is limited to an amount computed by multiplying the number of months served at the time of the offense . . . by the applicable monthly rate specified in 18 U.S.C., Section 4161. . . ." 28 C.F.R. § 541.11(d), Table 1, 1.B. (1982). Neither the statute nor the regulation gives any indication whether a pro-rata computation is permitted.
The Attorney General is vested with broad discretion in the operation of federal prisons, see 18 U.S.C. § 4001(b) (1976),*fn6 as are the prison officials whom the Attorney General supervises, Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 103 S. Ct. 864, 869, 74 L. Ed. 2d 675 (1983). This discretion extends to decisions concerning forfeiture of good time*fn7 and restoration of forfeited good time.*fn8 In general, prison administrators "should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447, 99 S. Ct. 1861 (1979).
In Jackson v. Carlson, 707 F.2d 943 (7th Cir. 1983), this court held that § 4161 creates a protectable liberty interest in good time credits because "the statute gives the prison authorities no discretion: if the prisoner complies with the requirement of good behavior he 'shall be entitled' to time off at a stated rate." 707 F.2d at 947. However, while the statute gives prison authorities no discretion in deciding whether a prisoner who behaves is entitled to good time credits and the rate at which the prisoner earns credits, § 4161 is silent as to how prison authorities may compute when credits have been "earned."
The administration of a prison is "at best an extraordinarily difficult undertaking." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 566, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974). Because of the "broad administrative and discretionary authority," Hewitt v. Helms, 103 S. Ct. at 869, generally accorded prison officials in the operation and control of their institutions, we are hesitant, in the absence of a Congressional directive limiting the discretion of prison authorities in this area, to restrict prison authorities in the computation of when good time is "earned" unless there is an abuse of discretion. Rather, we are inclined to leave decisions in this area to the sound discretion of prison officials. Indeed, the statutes already grant prison authorities considerable discretion in determining when good time is earned in the sense that ...