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decided: June 17, 1981.



Burger, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 487. Stewart, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 487.

Author: Burger

[ 452 U.S. Page 474]

 CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this case is whether a State may transfer a prisoner to federal custody pursuant to 18 U. S. C.

[ 452 U.S. Page 475]

     § 5003*fn1 in the absence of a prior determination that the prisoner who is being transferred has a need for specialized treatment available in the federal prison system.


In December 1974, the Commissioner of Corrections for the State of Vermont announced that he would soon close the 187-year-old Windsor prison, the State's only maximum-security facility, because Windsor had become inadequate in several respects. Rebideau v. Stoneman, 398 F.Supp. 805, 808, n. 7 (Vt. 1975). In anticipation of that closing, the United States and Vermont entered into an agreement pursuant to 18 U. S. C. § 5003 (a) by which the United States agreed to house in federal prisons up to 40 prisoners originally committed to the prisons of Vermont.*fn2 The contract recited that

[ 452 U.S. Page 476]

     the Director of the United States Bureau of Prisons had certified that facilities were available at federal institutions to accommodate 40 Vermont prisoners.

In 1975, when Windsor was finally closed, Vermont was left with several minimum-security community correctional centers and the Vermont Correction and Diagnostic Treatment Facility at St. Albans, Vt. St. Albans has the capacity for short-term incarceration of inmates with high security needs, but it is not designed for long-term incarceration of inmates classified as high security risks.


The petitioner, Robert Howe, was convicted in a Vermont court of first-degree murder arising out of the rape and strangulation of an elderly female neighbor. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and assigned to the St. Albans facility to begin serving his sentence. Because of the nature of his offense and the length of his term, however, the Classification Committee of the Vermont Department of Corrections determined that he should be kept in a maximum-security facility and recommended that he be transferred to a federal prison. Accordingly, the Vermont Department of Corrections held a hearing to decide whether he should be transferred to a federal institution. Howe was afforded advance notice of the hearing and of the reasons for the proposed transfer; he was present at the hearing; and he was represented by a law adviser from the facility's staff, who submitted various items of evidence in opposition to the proposed transfer.

The hearing officer recommended that the petitioner be transferred to a federal institution on the ground that "no treatment programs exist in the State of Vermont, which could provide both treatment and long term maximum security supervision" for him. App. 25. The hearing officer found

[ 452 U.S. Page 477]

     that Howe was dangerous and could not be integrated into a community-based program. The State relied on a psychiatric report describing Howe as a "'dangerous person who could well repeat the same pattern of assaultive behavior toward women at any time in the future.'" Id., at 26. The hearing officer also found that Howe would be "highly resistant to treatment" and that he was an escape risk. Indeed, Howe had escaped from the maximum-security wing of St. Albans while detained there prior to his trial.

On March 9, 1977, Vermont's Acting Commissioner of Corrections approved Howe's transfer to the federal prison system. Under the terms of the contract between the United States and Vermont, he was incarcerated initially in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Ga., and later was transferred to the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind.

As an inmate in the federal maximum-security penitentiaries, Howe enjoyed the same complete freedom of movement within the institution as other prisoners. By contrast, at St. Albans, he had not been given this freedom of movement, but had been generally confined to the maximum-security wing. The programs at St. Albans were substantially the same as those at the federal prisons, although Howe had less opportunity to take advantage of them because of the restrictions on his mobility at the state facility. The only two programs in which he actually participated at St. Albans were psychiatric counseling and educational courses. At Terre Haute, he ran a sewing machine until he had a heart attack. His principal activities now are knitting and crocheting.

On December 5, 1978, the petitioner filed this civil action in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, naming as defendants the Attorney General of the United States and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Respondent William Ciuros, Vermont's Commissioner of Corrections, intervened. Relying on Lono v. Fenton, 581 F.2d 645 (CA7 1978) (en banc), the petitioner challenged his transfer to the federal prison system on the ground that the

[ 452 U.S. Page 478]

     federal officials lacked statutory authority to accept custody. It was the petitioner's position that the sole statutory authority for transfers of state inmates, § 5003, requires federal authorities to make an individual determination that each state prisoner so transferred needs a particular specialized treatment program available in the federal prison system. The petitioner argued that no such individual determination had been made in his case, and that the transfer had not been effected for special treatment needs but for general penological reasons, that is, maximum-security incarceration.

Following a hearing, the District Court denied the petitioner's request for relief, holding:

"[The] [Act] plainly and unambiguously requires no showing of specialized treatment needs or facilities before a Vermont state prisoner may be transferred to the federal prison system in accordance with the contract under which [the petitioner] was so transferred. . . . 18 U. S. C. 5003 (a) requires nothing more of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons than a certification that facilities exist within the federal system in which state prisoners may be accommodated. That requirement has been met in the case at hand." 480 F.Supp. 111, 115 (1978).

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. 625 F.2d 454 (1980). The court observed that 18 U. S. C. § 5003 authorizes states to contract not simply for "treatment" but for the "custody, care, subsistence, education, treatment, and training of persons convicted." It reasoned that nothing in the language of the statute gives "treatment" primacy or provides a basis for concluding that, whatever other services are provided, "treatment" must always be furnished to prisoners transferred under the statute. While acknowledging that there was a modicum of support in the legislative ...

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