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Court ruling could release thousands of Colorado inmates
The federal civil rights suit comes out of a recent unpublished Colorado Court of Appeals ruling that re-affirms the requirement for the Colorado Department of Correction (CDOC) to apply both good time (15 days a month) and earned time (10 - 12 days a month depending on statute) to the release date for inmates with a mandatory parole date and would otherwise qualify for the time credit reduction.
According to CDOC spokesman Roger Hudson, offenders are allowed earned time that is applied towards an inmate’s release date and good time that is applied to an offender’s parole eligibility date. Hudson highlights that good time is not applied to an offender’s required release date, only the parole eligibility date. The court opinion, written by Judge John Dailey disagrees with the CDOC practice saying, “A person fitting under a mandatory parole scheme, however, must be paroled upon reaching the parole date as determined by reducing vested good time and earned time credits from the person’s sentence.”
According to civil rights attorney David Lane, the ruling means thousands of inmates have been incarcerated for too long. The federal suit filed by Lane asks the court for a preliminary injunction to require CDOC to immediately recalculate every offender’s time computation and release all inmates that have served their sentence with the time credit applied. The suit also claims that some parole board decisions are based on an offender’s mandatory parole date and Lane is asking that the parole board be required to reexamine parole decisions. After these things are done, says Lane, there is still the question of CDOC financial liability for the thousands of cumulative years taken from these offenders.
The appellate court ruling came from Ankeney v. Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Warden of the Fremont Correctional Facility, and Colorado Attorney General. Randy Ankeney, a former Colorado attorney, was sentenced to eight years for child abuse in January 2008. While incarcerated, he realized that good time and earned time were not being applied to his and other inmates' mandatory release dates as the law required. According to Ankeney, he repeatedly notified prison authorities of the time computation errors starting in 2010, but was never taken seriously.
When it was clear that prison officials were not going to do anything to correct the mistake, Ankeney filed his case in Fremont District Court in 2011 arguing that CDOC was not applying the law correctly. Ankeney alleged that his release date should have been November 2011, not December 2013 as the prison had calculated. The district court dismissed Ankeney’s case because of his inability to pay the required filing fee and further ruled that he did not, “file a claim upon which relief could be granted.”
After being refused relief from the district court, Ankeney had only one option left, file an appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals. “Appeals are longshots as it is,” said Ankeney, “they are nearly impossible to do as an offender from prison; the deck is stacked against you.”
The confusion in time computation comes from whether an offender is sentenced to discretionary parole or mandatory parole. The Colorado criminal code reinstituted the mandatory parole scheme in July 1993, but CDOC has been applying the rules for discretionary parole across all sentences. The appellate court opinion points out that, “The district court erred,” in its ruling, “DOC has a clear duty to apply,” the time credits Ankeney earned. The appellate court opinion, however, only applies to offenders with a mandatory parole date, not discretionary parole or indeterminate sentences.
According to Ankeney, the appellate court’s opinion was unpublished because it was already, “well settled law,” and should have been known to CDOC. “This is the law of the land now,” said Ankeney.
Lane, commented, “This ruling could have an immediate impact on offenders. I believe we have a very strong case here.”
“The excuse from the Department of Corrections is that the statutes are just really complicated. They’re not,” said Ankeney. “The only confusion comes from their misguided attempts to avoid doing what the legislature intended.”
Lane contacted the State Attorney General’s Office to notify them of the pending class action suit and asked if there was any reason the Attorney General could give for not filing the suit. According to Lane, the Attorney General’s office said they could not find a reason why the suit should not be filed other than the law was written in a confusing manner. Laura Morales, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said, “This matter is still in litigation on remand. As a result, we cannot comment on pending litigation.”
After receiving all the time credits required by law, Ankeney was released from CDOC in August 2013, nearly two years late. “That is time you just never get back,” said Ankeney, “you can’t understand what that means, it doesn’t have a price tag, it is two years of my life I will never see again.”