After an Albemarle judge denied a last-minute challenge to the General Assembly’s amendment to a program that granted early release to state inmates with a record of good behavior, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said it plans to appeal the ruling at the State appeal to Supreme Court.
“You must apply the language of the statute as it is written,” said Geri Greenspan, an ACLU of Virginia attorney. “We believe the court did not do that in this case.”
The Anderson v. Clarke and Bowles case is one of two cases the organization is bringing against the Virginia Department of Corrections over its interpretation of a provision added to the state budget in June that reverses some correctional reforms.
Virginia ACLU is suing Justice Department for deserved sentences
In 2020, Democrat-backed legislation allowed Virginia inmates to earn more points for good behavior or rehabilitation efforts that could reduce their sentences. While previously all inmates could earn up to 4.5 days of “good time” for every 30 days served, the new law allowed some to earn up to 15 days every 30 days.
The increased credits could not be applied to penalties for certain violent crimes, such as murder. Inmates with “mixed” sentences — for both violent and nonviolent crimes — could earn enhanced credit to reduce sentences for their nonviolent crimes, but not those related to their violent crimes.
After the reforms, hundreds of prisoners were told they would be released early starting July 1, 2022, the date the 2020 law was supposed to go into effect.
But at a one-day budget session in Richmond this June, both the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate, in response to a request from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, added language to the state budget blocking mixed-sentence inmates from the state budget Acquiring improved credits just weeks before they expected to drop out.
The Virginia ACLU then sued Virginia Department of Justice director Harold Clarke on behalf of inmate Antoine Anderson, saying the agency misapplied the new budget language to sentences that had already been reduced since the reforms took effect.
“The budget change should never have been applied retrospectively to revoke penalty credits already earned,” the company said argued.
However, in a court filing, the department argued that because the 2020 law did not go into effect until July 1, 2022, “no changes could be made to an inmate’s official sentence calculation before July 1, 2022.”
Anderson’s “sentence simply remains unchanged,” wrote VDOC. “At no time was he actually entitled to have increased credit applied to his sentence – rather only the possibility of improved credit after The law only came into force on July 1, 2022 if it remained unchanged prior to its effective date.”
Albemarle County Judge Cheryl Higgins ruled against the ACLU on Friday.
Greenspan said the judge found that the 2020 bill and the June 2022 budget language “should be read in combination and therefore the budget item should apply retrospectively and that the General Assembly must have intended the budget item to apply retrospectively in time.” prior to the Effective Date.”
The ACLU of Virginia, in a separate case, is also challenging the Department of Corrections’ application of the reform of earned penalty credit. Prease vs. Clarkewhich it has filed with the Supreme Court of Virginia.
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