Prison Overdetention Case Will Go To Trial

January 15, 2010 12:00 am


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Federal judge cites “ample evidence of … deprivation of liberty,” rejects Department of Public Safety’s efforts to have case dismissed

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HONOLULU – The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (“ACLU”) and Honolulu attorney Colin Yost (of Cruise & Yost) announced a victory today in a lawsuit challenging the Department of Public’s Safety’s unconstitutional practice of keeping inmates in prison after the inmates have served their sentences. United States District Court Senior Judge Samuel P. King rejected the State’s arguments that the case should be dismissed and is allowing the case to proceed to trial.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit, represented by Honolulu attorney Jack Schweigert, are former inmates who were kept in prison long after they completed serving their sentences – one individual, for example, was kept in prison nearly five months after he served his sentence. The lawsuit alleges that, for the past few years, Thomas Read and Nettie Simmons, Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) officials, have taken it upon themselves to “re-calculate” inmates’ sentences, extending their sentences often without reviewing pertinent court records, in violation of constitutional provisions requiring due process and prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit further alleges that DPS refused to investigate complaints by inmates that these new extended sentences were contrary to what the courts had ordered.

The ACLU and Colin Yost together submitted two amicus curiae (or “friend-of-the-court”) briefs on several legal issues. In a 49-page written opinion, Judge King recognized that this case involves freedom from incarceration, a “paradigmatic liberty interest,” and that “[t]here is ample evidence of such a deprivation of liberty” in this case. (Court’s Order at 33.)

Yost explained, “Despite years of consent decrees and court orders, and despite chronic, pervasive overcrowding in our prisons, the Department of Public Safety continues inexplicably to turn a blind eye to constitutional violations. DPS is violating individuals’ liberty interests by keeping people locked in prison – when no authority or rationale exists for their continued detention – simply because DPS does not have its paperwork in order.”

Daniel Gluck, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Hawaii added, “DPS’s failure to follow the Constitution is also an abuse of precious taxpayer dollars, especially during a time of dramatically reduced state budgets. Unfortunately, the State’s longstanding ‘lock ’em up at all costs’ policies will continue to drain resources away from other important community concerns.”

The case, Alston v. Read, Civ. No. 07-00266 SPK-LEK, is scheduled for trial in October 2010. The ACLU of Hawaii has been at the forefront of prison litigation efforts for decades, including Tapaoan v. Cayetano (a 2001 lawsuit challenging DPS’s unlawful detention of pre-trial detainees, which resulted in a $1.2 million settlement) and Spear v. Ariyoshi (a 1984 lawsuit challenging conditions in Hawaii’s prisons, which resulted in a federal court consent decree).

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