7th Circuit affirms inmate has no property interest in fund

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the decision in the Northern District of Indiana that an inmate has no property interest in prison recreation funds.

Inmate Sammie Booker-El filed a pro se suit against prison officials claiming they were misappropriating money from the inmates’ recreation fund. The money from this fund comes from sources outside of the state budget and officials can use the money to purchase recreational items or for a purpose not already covered under existing state appropriations. Booker-El’s suit claims that he has been denied his property interest in the fund without due process of the law.

The District Court ruled that because neither the Constitution nor United States laws mandated that state penal facilities maintain an inmates’ recreation fund or dictate how money in such funds be spent, Booker-El could only state a claim if Indiana law provided the inmates with a property interest in the fund. The District judged examined Indiana Code 4-24-6-6 and concluded that the statute did not give inmates a property interest in the fund. The case was dismissed.

The Indiana statute in question requires only that if prison officials decide to spend money from the fund, it must be spent for the direct benefit of prisoners. The statute doesn’t impose any obligation for officials to spend the money within a given period of time, and the statute also gives officials discretion to transfer a recreation fund from one institution to another without consulting any inmates, wrote Judge Michael Kanne.

“Therefore, prison officials were free to transfer the entirety of the inmates’ recreation fund at the Indiana State Prison to another institution at any time without notice. Given this discretion, Booker-El has no legitimate expectation to any benefit derived from the inmates’ recreation fund, and thus no protected property interest,” he wrote in Sammie L. Booker-El v. Superintendent, Indiana State Prison and all agents, No. 10-1490.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the Southern District of Indiana, sat by designation on this case.



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