According to an internal Justice Department report, over 152 federal prison inmates served longer prison sentences than they were expected to within a six-year period. A particular inmate served three years more than his original sentence. The report also revealed that in 2014, five inmates were released early. Three of those prisoners were set free at least 12 months before the completion of their sentences.
As The Washington Post reports, some of these errors were made as a result of basic computing. However, others were not that simple. The mistakes came from the miscalculations of sentence credits and blunders committed during the application of consecutive and concurrent sentencing periods. The unidentified inmate that spent three additional years in prison bore the full brunt of incompetent prison officials that failed to calculate the credit for time he served in a state prison before being transferred to a federal one.
The mistaken releases represent only a small number of the 461,966 inmates freed during the investigative review. But nonetheless, federal investigators say it is a blunder that could be costly and have extraordinary consequences if not addressed.
“Late releases from prison deprive inmates of their liberty; early releases can put communities at risk if the inmates are dangerous.”
Three days after the unidentified inmate told prison officials about the mistake, he was released. Federal investigators say officials are at a loss for words over how proper sentencing details were not made available before the original release date. The costly error made the inmate spend an extra 928 days in prison. The government paid no compensation for the grave mistake, though the former prisoner did not bother taking the matter to court.
The investigative report said “the result was a serious deprivation of the inmate’s liberty and a violation of the court’s sentencing order.” Another inmate was also mistakenly held beyond the time he was meant to serve in prison. He was held for 541 days. A third inmate was held for 406 days. The inmate won a settlement for $175,000.
A response from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed with the report, written by the inspector general, who recommended a review of release actions and unearthing what is particularly responsible for the blunders. However, the joint response attributed only a portion of the wrongful releases to human error.
The US Justice Department General Michael Horowitz revealed that the government spent over $1 million to keep prisoners beyond their sentencing periods, as well as in the settlement of different lawsuits filed by aggrieved inmates. Over 4,000 federal inmates were affected.
Horowitz, appearing in a video complementing the report, said, “neither the Department nor the Bureau of Prisons has attempted to work with the other agencies to examine these cases, and they don’t appear to fully understand all of the actions that can contribute to untimely releases.”
Late releases are not exactly a new thing in America; however, they continue to underline the challenges prisons face when it comes to calculating release dates of inmates. Terence Davidson, of the Legal Aid Society in New York, said he corrects 100-200 sentences every year. He pointed out that over 100 inmates in Alaska were incarcerated beyond their release dates. He confirmed that it had happened consistently over the past five years mainly due to clerical errors.
In 2007, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections confessed that their method of calculating inmate release dates was faulty when it discovered that 14 inmates were kept beyond their release periods. In February, the governor of Washington made it known that as many of 3,200 prisoners had been released prematurely since 2002. The revelation caused plenty of furor, especially when one if the released prisoners was arrested again and charged with first-degree murder.
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