LOS ANGELES (CN) - California exacerbates its prison overcrowding by keeping prisoners locked up for weeks, months and even years beyond their release dates, a class action claims in Superior Court.
Lead plaintiff David Michael Posey, a former inmate, sued California and two top officials of its Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He claims the state uses a "non-uniform, arbitrary and capricious system of release date calculation," in violation of prisoners' civil rights.
He seeks a court order releasing inmates who should have been freed by now, and a uniform state system to calculate correct release dates.
Posey claims California has been on notice of the problem since 2008, when evidence from the state's own records showed that 594 inmates had been "over-detained." California did nothing to address the issue, Posey claims.
Department of Corrections records for 2008 through 2012 show that 5,200 prisoners served longer sentences that they should have - sometimes more than 1,000 days longer, Posey says.
"Clearly, this is a continuing and serious problem, as over 5,200 individuals have been over-detained since 2008 and there is no indication that the problem has been rectified," according to the 35-page complaint.
There are 165,817 inmates serving time in California prisons today, at a cost of $120 per inmate per day, roughly $43,287 per inmate per year, Posey says. ($7.2 billion.)
"The over-detention of inmates results in a substantial expenditure to the taxpayers of this state as well as a constitutional violation of the rights of those over-detained. There are sound reasons to remedy the problem of the over-detention of prisoners which, in addition to the monetary cost, also adds to the overcrowding of the prison system which is currently at acute levels," the complaint states.
Simple mathematics shows that over-detention of prisoners costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year - which could be avoided if the state fulfilled its duty to properly calculate a "minimum and maximum release date with the application of all appropriate credits pursuant to law."
Posey cites California case law from the past seven years to support his claim that the state miscalculates sentences, noting that "terms of imprisonment are fixed by law," and that credits earned by prisoners "may reduce the length of sentences."
"Currently, in violation of the duties imposed by state court decisions interpreting the laws, rules and/or policies setting forth the parameters of a correct calculation, such early projected release dates may have initially been calculated improperly by defendants or have not been recalculated by defendants after issuance of applicable court decisions which mandate such recalculations or given earned credits during the period of incarceration," the complaint states.
Posey claims that miscalculations have "altered the release date of potentially thousands of inmates."
"(B)y failing to carry out this recalculation of release dates to be unilaterally implemented in violation of state laws, rules and policies, inmates are routinely and systematically over-detained and deprived of their rightful freedom when they should have been released, to their suffering, to the unnecessary waste of taxpayer funds required for the continued maintenance of prisoners in penal institutions and to the compensable loss of individuals who are over-detained by the defendants failure to notify them of the over-detention or compensate them for same," the complaint states.
Posey says the system places "the onus on inmates (who are often unaware that they are being over-detained since they rely on the state for this calculation), to bring the error of miscalculation of their sentence to the attention of the defendants."
"Furthermore, many inmates are without current or continuing counsel or suffer from numerous developmental disabilities as well as lack of education, which makes their calculation of their own appropriate release date impracticable and/or impossible. By waiting for individual inmates to appeal their respective release dates or otherwise legally challenge their unlawful imprisonment, defendants recalculate the sentences of inmates on an individual, ad hoc and piecemeal basis."
Posey says the state has no system to notify or compensate the over-detained.
He seeks an injunction, writ of mandate, and class damages for due process violations, wrongful detention, false imprisonment, negligence, and constitutional violations.
He is represented by Paul Kiesel with Kiesel + Larson of Beverly Hills.
Posey was convicted of possession of a controlled substance, released on probation, then rearrested and sent back to prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm, he says in the complaint.
After seven paragraphs of rather complex calculations involving good time, pretrial detention and sentencing ranges, he estimates that he was "over-detained" for 11 to 13 months.
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