West Virginia High Court Rules for Fundamental Fairness in Implementing State Prisons' 'Good Behavior' Policy

June 19, 2003 12:00 am

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CHARLESTON, WV–In a victory for the due process rights of prison inmates, the state Supreme Court today ruled that prison officials here could not deny an inmate the possibility of earning “good time” credit that could reduce their sentences, the American Civil Liberties of West Virginia announced.

The ACLU lawsuit, Randy Bailey v. State of West Virginia, Division of Corrections et al., was filed earlier this year on behalf of Randy Bailey, an inmate at Huttonsville Correctional Center who is serving a one-to-three year sentence for a third DUI offense. The ACLU filed the lawsuit after administrative remedies within the Division of Corrections proved unsuccessful.

“The Court has recognized that that taking away unearned good time removes the main incentive our client has to improve his behavior,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia. “More importantly though the Court has reaffirmed that good time credit is a valuable liberty interest protected by the Due Process clause of the West Virginia Constitution.”

In a unanimous majority opinion the Court wrote: “Perhaps no place else are fairness and predictability more valued than within the walls of prison. Those incarcerated have little to look forward to, and little to motivate them, beyond a return to their normal, free lives on the outside. It is vitally important to the orderly operation of our prisons that inmates believe they will be rewarded for good behavior.”

According to the ACLU, Bailey had accrued 156 days of good time credit in both the Denmar and Huttonsville prisons when he was disciplined by prison authorities for bad behavior and had his good time reduced by 18 months. This punishment amounted to not only the 156 days of earned good time but also all the remaining unearned good time that could be granted over the duration of his sentence.

Under the West Virginia statute, an inmate is rewarded with one day of good time credit that is subtracted from his or her maximum sentence for each day of good behavior, according to Chris Cooper, an ACLU of West Virginia cooperating attorney who argued the case before the state’s High Court. For misconduct, the statute provides that “any part or all of the good time which has been granted to such inmate… may be forfeited and revoked by the warden or superintendent of the institution in which the violation occurred.”

“We are extremely pleased with today’s decision. The Division of Corrections clearly violated the statute that limits the amount of good time that may be revoked to the amount that the inmate has earned,” said Cooper.

The Court’s ruling restores all good time credits improperly revoked from Bailey.

“The relationship between fair procedures and liberty is a crucial one,” said Schneider. “Justice William O. Douglas articulated this principle well when he said, ‘It is procedure that spells much of the difference between rule of law and rule by whim and caprice.'”

Cooper and Jason Huber served as cooperating attorneys in the case. The opinion issued today is available on line at: http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca/docs/spring03/31148.htm

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