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Freeman v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

February 27, 2017

HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Douglas Lee Freeman, a Virginia prison inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various staff and officials at Red Onion State Prison (“Red Onion”) and in the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”). Plaintiff contends that Defendants have denied him due process and equal treatment by placing and maintaining him in segregated confinement for administrative reasons and have subjected him to cruel and unusual living conditions. After review of the record, I conclude that Defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted.


         Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State Prison (“Wallens Ridge”) house all VDOC Security Level S (“SLS”) inmates, those who must be managed in a long-term segregation setting.[1]Under current policies, once a VDOC inmate is classified as SLS, officials transfer him to one of these facilities, where he may participate in the Segregation Reduction Step-Down Program set out in Operating Procedure (“OP”) 830.A. (OP 830.A, at 12-37, docket no. 19-1). This version of the step-down procedure became effective on February 18, 2013, with the stated purpose to provide “established procedures for incentive based offender management which will create a pathway for offenders to step-down from Security level S to lower security levels in a manner that maintains public, staff and offender safety.” (OP 830.A, § I.)

         Each newly classified SLS inmate is assessed and assigned to the appropriate privilege level: intensive management (“IM”), special management (“SM”), or the reentry unit (reserved for inmates within two years of release). An inmate is assigned to SM status if evaluators find that he has a history of “repeated disruptive behavior at lower level facilities, . . . fighting with staff or offenders, and/or violent resistance” that harmed staff or other inmates, but “without the intent to invoke serious harm, . . . kill, or [cause] serious damage to the facility.” (OP 830.A, § III.) Inmates are further sub-classified under OP 830.A as follows, starting with IM-0, the most restrictive status, and ending with the general population, the least restrictive:

Intensive Management (IM):
Special Management (SM):
Step-Down-Level 6 General Population
Structured Living-Phase 1 and Phase 2
Security Level 5 General Population

         The step-down program in OP 830.A is a so-called cognitive program that involves meeting pro-social goals and requires the inmate to complete a seven-workbook set called the Challenge Series, remain infraction free, exhibit responsible behavior, and participate in self-improvement and education programs. When an inmate meets the goals designated for a step, he may be advanced to the next step and receive the additional privileges assigned to it. When he completes the Challenge Series, he may be decreased to Security Level 6 (“SL6”), where inmates live in double cells and may associate with other inmates in a group setting without restraints. If the inmate completes the goals in SL6, he may then be reduced to Security Level 5 and be placed in a general population setting.

         While assigned to any of these segregation levels, the inmate's classification status will be periodically reviewed by the Institutional Classification Authority (“ICA”). Members of the Unit Management Team, a multi-disciplinary group of staff who work in the housing units, track and rate each inmate's progress toward the goals of his assigned step. They rate his behavior every week as poor, acceptable, or good in each of several categories, such as personal hygiene, standing for count, and respect. Counselors rate the inmate's program participation every week as incomplete, complete, or positive effort. Officers in each of these groups are encouraged to communicate with inmates about these ratings - to acknowledge positive performance and motivate improvement where needed.

         In addition to Unit Management Team review of an inmate's classification status, certain classification decisions are also reviewed by a Dual Treatment Team made up of officials from both Red Onion and Wallens Ridge, by the wardens of the two institutions, or by the VDOC regional operations chief. In addition to this multi-level review scheme, “[a] team external to [Red Onion and Wallens Ridge] will perform an annual review of each [Level S] offender's case.” (OP 830.A, § IV, ¶ K.1.a.) This review includes a reassessment of whether the inmate continues to meet the criteria for the IM or SM path to which he has been ...

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