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Cullen v. Saddler

United States District Court, Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division

March 6, 2015

MICHELLE SADDLER, et al., Defendants.



Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, claims that he was required in prison to participate in a religious substance abuse treatment program-a program based on the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which requires reverence to a "higher power." Cross-summary judgment motions are before the Court.

The undisputed facts show that Plaintiff could not be considered for discretionary good time credit under 730 ILCS 5/3- 6-3(a)(3) unless he was enrolled in a prison substance abuse treatment program, and the only program available to him was a religious one. The facts in this case are substantively indistinguishable from Kerr, a Seventh Circuit case from nearly 19 years ago which held that eligibility for parole cannot be conditioned on completion of a religious treatment program.

Summary judgment is, therefore, warranted for Plaintiff, except as to Defendant Taylor, whom Plaintiff admits was not in charge during the relevant time. Remaining is Plaintiff's damages claim for $350.00 plus unspecified costs of suit, which will be dealt with in further proceedings.


On October 19, 2009, as part of a plea agreement, Plaintiff pled guilty to aggravated driving under the influence, 625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(1)(A), a class four felony. He was sentenced to three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. (10/19/09 sentencing court Order, d/e 50-2, p. 1; sentencing transcript, d/e 50-5.) The sentencing court found that the offense "was committed as a result of the use of, abuse of, or addiction to alcohol or a controlled substance." Id. During the sentencing, Plaintiff noted his objection to participating in a substance abuse treatment based on the "twelve-step program" of Alcoholics Anonymous because Plaintiff is agnostic. The sentencing court warned Plaintiff that participating or not participating in substance abuse treatment would likely have some impact on Plaintiff's ability to earn good time credits, but that the IDOC had "a full range of people with religious, different religious viewpoints, including no religion, and 12 steps; and they will respect all that, and they deal with that on a regular basis." (sentencing transcript, p. 26.)

When Plaintiff arrived at the Stateville Northern Reception and Classification Center for processing on or about October 22, 2009, he was asked whether he wished to participate in a substance abuse treatment program at Sheridan Correctional Center. (Pl.'s Dep. pp. 9, 11-20). However, Plaintiff declined the offer after learning that the substance abuse treatment program at Sheridan is based on the 12-step program. Plaintiff was not offered a secular alternative and was transferred to Western Illinois Correctional Center about one week later. Plaintiff believes that the environment and programs at Sheridan were more desirable than those at Western, but he provides no specifics or evidence to support that assertion. Both prisons are medium security, according to the IDOC website. (last visited March 5, 2015).

Plaintiff understood, from what others had told him, that at the time Plaintiff entered the IDOC, the IDOC had an early release program available to first time offenders, which might enable Plaintiff to receive six months of discretionary good time earlier than usual. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 30). No further information is provided about the specifics of this program, but Defendants do not dispute Plaintiff's understanding.

When Plaintiff arrived at Western Correctional Center, Defendant McNeff was assigned as Plaintiff's counselor. Defendant McNeff also acted as a substance abuse counselor and administered a substance abuse treatment program at Western. (McNeff Aff., para. 1-2.)

Defendant McNeff advised Plaintiff that, because the sentencing judge had recommended substance abuse treatment, Plaintiff must participate in the treatment to be considered for discretionary good time. (Defs.' Undisputed Fact 20; McNeff Aff., para. 8-10.) Discretionary good time is governed by an Illinois statute which allows the IDOC Director to award up to 180 days of 1:12-cv-01032-SEM-TSH # 68 Page 5 of 15 good time, which is in addition to day-for-day good time inmates like Plaintiff can earn as a matter of course. 730 ILCS 5/3-6- 3(a)(2.1), (3)(1). Whether discretionary good time is actually awarded to an eligible inmate lies within the discretion of the Director. 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(3). "Discretionary good time" is the Court's nomenclature: Defendants refer to Section 5/3-6-3(a)(3) good time as "meritorious good time."

According to Defendant McNeff's affidavit:
6. The substance abuse treatment program at Western was not a part of Alcoholics Anonymous ("A.A.") and did not consist of 12 steps. The program did utilize modified versions of some of A.A.'s 12 steps, but did not require that participants recognize the existence of "God, " any deity, or other monotheistic entity.
7. The substance abuse program at Western did reference a higher power, but when it did both I and the material emphasized that such higher power could be anything, according to the participants' perception.

Defendant McNeff does not dispute that at the treatment meetings she passed out books on the twelve-step program. She also does not dispute Plaintiff's contention that Western's program was based on the Hazelden Foundation's "Design for Living" materials, which, according to Plaintiff, borrowed heavily from AA's 1:12-cv-01032-SEM-TSH # 68 Page 6 of 15 twelve-step principles, urging participants to acknowledge a "higher power" to whom one must admit their defects. (Pl.'s Mot. Sum. J., d/e 54, p. 8.) The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is an entity in Minnesota dedicated helping individuals overcome addiction. The Foundation publishes books, including a book titled, "Living with Your Higher Power: A guide to the Big Book's Design for Living." (last visited 3/3/2015). According to the website for Alcoholics Anonymous, the "Big Book" is the basic text published by Alcoholics Anonymous which explains the AA approach. (last visited 3/4/15). Whether this particular book or the materials in it were used ...

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