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MCGINNIS v. ROYSTER ET AL.

decided: February 21, 1973.

MCGINNIS, COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, ET AL
v.
ROYSTER ET AL.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK.

Powell, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, Stewart, White, Blackmun, and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Douglas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 277.

Author: Powell

[ 410 U.S. Page 264]

 MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us concerns the constitutionality of § 230 (3) of the New York Correction Law, which denied appellee state prisoners "good time" credit for their presentence incarceration in county jails.*fn1 Appellees

[ 410 U.S. Page 265]

     claim that disallowing such credit to them while permitting credit up to the full period of ultimate incarceration for state prisoners who were released on bail prior to sentencing deprived them of equal protection of the laws. The three-judge District Court, one judge dissenting, upheld their claim, 332 F.Supp. 973 (1971). The Commissioner of Correction and other officials (hereafter Commissioner) have appealed and we noted probable jurisdiction, 405 U.S. 986 (1972).*fn2

The challenged New York sentencing system is a complex one, and some basic definitions are required at the outset. Jail time denotes that time an individual passes

[ 410 U.S. Page 266]

     in a county jail prior to trial and sentencing. Good time is awarded for good behavior and efficient performance of duties during incarceration. Both good time and jail time figure variously in the calculations of a series of release dates that each prisoner receives upon his arrival at state prison. Each inmate has both a minimum parole date, which is the earliest date on which he may be paroled at the discretion of the Parole Board, and a statutory release date which is the earliest date he must be paroled by the Parole Board.*fn3 The minimum parole date is calculated under §§ 230 (2) and 230 (3) by subtracting the greatest amount of good time that can be earned (10 days per month) from the minimum sentence of an indeterminate term.*fn4 The statutory release date is calculated under § 230 (4) by subtracting the greatest amount of good time that can be earned (5 days per month) from the maximum sentence of an indeterminate term.

Although appellees did receive jail-time credit for the period of their presentence incarceration in county jail, § 230 (3) explicitly forbids, in calculating the minimum parole date, any good-time credit for the period of county jail detention served prior to transfer to state prison.*fn5 Appellee Royster, being unable to post bail,

[ 410 U.S. Page 267]

     served 404 days' jail time in the Nassau County Jail prior to his transfer to state prison to serve consecutive 5-to-10-year terms for burglary in the third degree and grand larceny in the first degree. Appellee Rutherford also failed to make bail and spent 242 days' jail time in Nassau County Jail prior to his trial, sentencing, and transfer to state prison for concurrent terms of 10 to 20 years for robbery in the first degree and two and one-half to five years for grand larceny in the second degree. It is undisputed that, were appellees Royster and Rutherford to receive good-time credit for their presentence confinement in county jail, they would be entitled to appear before the Parole Board approximately four and three months earlier, respectively, than under the computation required by § 230 (3).

Two additional points merit mention. While New York does deny good-time credit for jail time in computing the minimum parole date under §§ 230 (2) and (3), it allows such credit in calculating the statutory release date under § 230 (4).*fn6 Finally, § 230 (3) itself provides that good-time credit for jail time shall be awarded to those prisoners confined after sentence in county penitentiaries, as opposed to those convicted of felonies, such as appellees, who are transferred after sentence to state prison.*fn7

[ 410 U.S. Page 268]

     I

Section 230 (3) of the New York Correction Law does, as appellees note, draw a distinction "between the treatment of state prisoners incarcerated prior to sentencing and those who were not similarly incarcerated."*fn8 Appellees contend that "denying state prisoners good-time credit for the period of their pre-sentence incarceration in a County Jail whereas those fortunate enough to obtain bail prior to sentence [receive] a full allowance of good time credit for the entire period which they ultimately spend in custody"*fn9 violates the equal protection of the laws and discriminates against those state prisoners unable to afford or otherwise qualify for bail prior to trial.

We first note that any relative disadvantage the distinction works on appellees is lessened by the fact that New York on September 1, 1967, replaced § 230 of its Correction Law with §§ 803 and 805, which apply to all convictions for offenses after that date.*fn10 Under the new

[ 410 U.S. Page 269]

     scheme, "good time earned on the minimum sentence is abolished. A prisoner meets with the Parole Board at the expiration of his minimum term, regardless of how much good time he has earned or of how much time he spent in jail prior to arriving at state prison."*fn11 New York has given appellees -- and all those sentenced for offenses committed prior to September 1, 1967 -- a chance to elect the new procedure, but appellees declined to do so. Appellees thus enjoy at least as favorable a position as all state prisoners convicted for offenses committed subsequent to September 1, 1967, including those released on bail prior to sentence. Appellees thus are disadvantaged in the computation of time only in comparison with those who were convicted of offenses committed prior to September 1, 1967, and made bail prior to trial. Even the adverse impact of this difference is lessened, though not eliminated, by the fact that New York did not deprive appellees of credit for the full amount of actual time spent in jail prior to trial and sentencing but only of the potential additional 10 days per month of good time ordinarily available under § 230 (2) to inmates for good conduct and efficient performance of duty.*fn12

We note, further, that the distinction of which appellees complain arose in the course of the State's sensitive

[ 410 U.S. Page 270]

     and difficult effort to encourage for its prisoners constructive future citizenship while avoiding the danger of releasing them prematurely upon society. The determination of an optimal time for parole eligibility elicited multiple legislative classifications and groupings, which the court below rightly concluded require only some rational basis to sustain them. James v. Strange, 407 U.S. 128, 140 (1972); Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, 73-74 (1972); Schilb v. Kuebel, 404 U.S. 357 (1971); Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 487 (1970). Appellees themselves recognize this to be the appropriate standard.*fn13 For this Court has observed that "the problems of government are practical ones and may justify, if they do not require, rough accommodations -- illogical, it may be, and unscientific." Metropolis Theatre Co. v. City of Chicago, 228 U.S. 61, 69-70 (1913). We do not wish to inhibit state experimental classifications in a practical and troublesome area, but inquire only whether the challenged distinction rationally furthers some legitimate, articulated state purpose. We conclude that it does.

II The Commissioner defends the distinction by noting that "state prisons differ from county jails with respect to purpose, usage and availability of facilities." State prisons are "intended to have rehabilitation as a prime purpose and the facilities at these institutions are built and equipped to serve this purpose." The Commissioner cites the presence at state prisons of "educational and vocational services such as schools, factories, ...


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