Prisoners' Rights Under Law - Early Release
parole court program credits
Two cases decided in the late 1990s pertained to prisons releasing inmates early to relieve overcrowding and then later revoking their release status. Beginning in 1983 the Florida legislature enacted a series of laws authorizing the awarding of early release credits to prison inmates when the state prison population exceeded predetermined levels. In 1986 Kenneth Lynce received a twenty-two-year prison sentence on a charge of attempted murder. In 1992 he was released based on the determination that he had accumulated five different types of early release credits totaling 5,668 days, including 1,860 days of "provisional credits" awarded as a result of prison overcrowding.
Shortly thereafter the state attorney general issued an opinion interpreting a 1992 statute as having retroactively canceled all provisional credits awarded to inmates convicted of murder and attempted murder. Lynce was rearrested and returned to custody. He filed a habeas corpus petition alleging that the retroactive cancellation of provisional credits violated the ex post facto ("from a thing done afterward") clause of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court agreed with Lynce. In Lynce v. Mathis (65 LW 4131, 1997) the Court ruled that to fall within the ex post facto prohibition a law must be "retrospective" and "disadvantage the offender affected by it" (Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 29, 1981). The 1992 statute was clearly retrospective and disadvantaged Lynce by increasing his punishment.
The second case concerned Oklahoma's Pre-parole Conditional Supervision Program, which took effect whenever the state prisons became overcrowded and could authorize the conditional release of prisoners before their sentences expired. The Pardon and Parole Board determined who could participate in the program. An inmate was eligible for pre-parole after serving only 15% of a sentence, and was eligible for parole after one-third of the sentence had elapsed.
Ernest Harper was released under the pre-parole program. After he spent five apparently uneventful months outside prison, the governor denied him pre-parole. He was returned to prison without a hearing and on less than five hours' notice.
Despite Harper's claim that his reincarceration deprived him of liberty without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and the Federal District Court denied him habeas corpus relief. The corrections department argued that the court had ruled that a hearing was not necessary to transfer a prisoner from a low-security prison to a higher-security one and that was what they were doing in this case.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, held that the pre-parole program was sufficiently like parole and a program participant was entitled to procedural protections. In Leroy L. Young v. Ernest Eugene Harper (65 LW 4197, 1997), the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Tenth Circuit Court. It ruled that Oklahoma had violated Harper's due process rights by sending him back to prison without giving him a hearing to show that he had not met the conditions of the program.