Young v. Harper - 520 U.S. 143 (1997)


OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

YOUNG ET AL. v. HARPER

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

No. 95-1598. Argued December 9, 1996-Decided March 18, 1997

Oklahoma's Preparole Conditional Supervision Program (preparole or Program) took effect whenever the state prisons became overcrowded and authorized the conditional release of prisoners before their sentences expired. The Pardon and Parole Board (Board) determined who could participate in it, and an inmate could be placed on preparole after serving 15% of his sentence. An inmate was eligible for parole only after one-third of his sentence had elapsed, and the Governor, based on the Board's recommendation, decided to grant parole. Program participants and parolees were released subject to similar constraints. Upon reviewing respondent's criminal record and prison conduct, the Board simultaneously recommended him for parole and released him under the Program. At that time, he had served 15 years of a life sentence. Mter he spent five apparently uneventful months outside the penitentiary, the Governor denied him parole, whereupon he was ordered to, and did, report back to prison. Despite his claim that his summary reincarceration deprived him of liberty without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, he was denied habeas relief by, successively, the state trial court, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Federal District Court. The Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that preparole was sufficiently like parole that a Program participant was entitled to the procedural protections set forth in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U. S. 471.

Held: The Program, as it existed when respondent was released, was equivalent to parole as understood in Morrissey. Morrissey's description of the "nature of the interest of the parolee in his continued liberty" could just as easily have applied to respondent while he was on preparole. In compliance with state procedures, he was released from prison before the expiration of his sentence. See 408 U. S., at 477. He kept his own residence; he sought, obtained, and maintained a job; and he lived a life generally free of the incidents of imprisonment. See id., at 481-482. Although he was not permitted to use alcohol, to incur other than educational debt, or to travel outside the county without permission, and he was required to report regularly to a parole officer, similar limits on a parolee's liberty did not in Morrissey render such liberty beyond procedural protection. Id., at 478. Some of the factors as-


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serted by petitioners to differentiate the Program from parole under Meachum v. Fano, 427 U. S. 215, 228-that preparole had the purpose of reducing prison overcrowding, and that a preparolee continued to serve his sentence and receive earned credits, remained within the custody of the Department of Corrections, and was aware that he could have been transferred to a higher security level if the Governor denied parole-do not, in fact, appear to distinguish the two programs at all. Other differences identified by petitioners-that participation in the Program was ordered by the Board, while the Governor conferred parole; that escaped preparolees could be prosecuted as though they had escaped from prison, while escaped parolees were subject only to parole revocation, and that a preparolee could not leave Oklahoma under any circumstances, while a parolee could leave the State with his parole officer's permission-serve only to set preparole apart from the specific terms of parole as it existed in Oklahoma, but not from the more general class of parole identified in Morrissey. The Program appears to have differed from parole in name alone. Pp. 147-153.

64 F.3d 563, affirmed.

THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Sandra D. Howard, Assistant Attorney General of Oklahoma, argued the cause for petitioners. With her on the briefs were W A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General, and Jennifer B. Miller, Assistant Attorney General.

Margaret Winter, by appointment of the Court, 518 U. S. 1015, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Marjorie Rifkin, Elizabeth Alexander, Micheal Salem, and Steven R. Shapiro. *

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the narrow question whether a program employed by the State of Oklahoma to reduce the overcrowd-

* A brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed for the State of Nevada et al. by Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General of Nevada, and Anne Cathcart, Senior Deputy Attorney General, joined by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Daniel E. Lungren of California, Gale A. Norton of Colorado, Margery S. Bronster of Hawaii, Alan G. Lance of Idaho, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, and Dennis C. Vacco of New York.


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Full Text of Opinion

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