Program for Female Inmates Only Ruled Unconstitutional

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A California program that allows female inmates to finish their sentences in a transitional facility is unconstitutional because men aren’t given the same option, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
     William Sassman sued the state after he tried to apply for the program and was denied. Although lawmakers originally allowed male inmates who are primary caregivers of dependent children to apply for the alternative custody program, they amended the law in 2013 to exclude men from applying.
     Two other male inmates challenged their exclusion from the program with a federal lawsuit earlier this year.
     On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Morrison England ruled the Golden State’s decision to exclude male inmates from the alternative custody program violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and ordered the state to begin accepting applications from men within 30 days.
     “When the state draws a line between two classes of persons, and denies one of those classes a right as fundamental as physical freedom, that action survives equal protection review only if the state has a sufficient justification for the classification. Here, the state does not,” he ruled.
     A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the department is still reviewing the decision and “we are currently evaluating the fiscal and custodial impacts of including men in the alternative custody program.”
     Inmates Michael Berman and Darrell Stapp filed a similar suit against the state in July, claiming their exclusion from the program prevents them from spending time with their families. Both of the men are scheduled for early release in the summer of 2016 and are serving time for non-violent offenses.
     The state implemented the alternative custody program in 2010 in order to alleviate the notorious overcrowding of its prisons and was initially supposed to include men. Gov. Jerry signed a budget bill excluding men from applying in 2013.
     Meanwhile, the state has admitted over 500 females under the program since.
     The inmates’ attorney, Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld, told Courthouse News in July that the lawsuits are about “a really gross injustice.”
     “We really hope this will help not just our own clients, but men across the state who qualify and are able to participate in this excellent program, just like the women who already are,” Grunfeld said.
     Following England’s decision in favor of her clients, Grunfeld said, “We are very pleased by Judge England’s thoughtful, thorough and well-written opinion finding the ACP unconstitutional insofar as it excludes otherwise qualified male prisoners. As the court ordered, CDCR ‘shall immediately cease denying admission to the ACP on the basis that an applicant is male.'”

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