By JEFF ECKHOFF
Iowa inmates held past their proper release dates deserve to be compensated for each day they were improperly confined, according to a class action lawsuit filed this week in Polk County District Court.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Mahaska County sex offender [name withheld #1] and other similarly situated inmates, contends that [name withheld #1] was held for 46 days too long under new rules outlined in a decision this summer by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Justices ruled in July in a case involving convicted sex offender [name withheld #2] that [name withheld #2] deserved credit for time spent under home supervision even though he was later found to have violated probation during that time. According to the decision, Iowa law clearly requires that any defendant committed to the state Department of Corrections for supervision “who has probation revoked shall be given credit for such time served.”
Iowa corrections officials say the ruling explicitly changed the math used to calculate prison release dates for more than 3,500 Iowa convicts.
“Our position is that they have been prepared for this,” said Jeffrey Lipman, the Des Moines attorney behind the lawsuit. “Knowing that this was an issue, they should have been prepared.”
The class action lawsuit, filed against Iowa Department of Corrections director John Baldwin, contends that “hundreds if not thousands of Iowa inmates” have been detained past the dates they properly should have been set free.
“On information and belief, the cause of the over-detentions is a collapse of the inmate management system and deliberate indifference by defendants to the rights of detainees and prisoners to be released by their release dates,” the lawsuit contends. “Defendant has taken no action to implement an effective inmate management that can ensure release of prisoners by their release dates.”
State corrections numbers say discharge dates were checked and double-checked as part of a review completed in early November. That process led to the immediate release of 551 inmates from prison and work release programs and recalculation of a new release date for 2,588 others.
Corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta declined to comment on the lawsuit, but confirmed that “everybody who we believe changed discharge dates as a result of the recalculation, they’re out the door.”
Court papers allege that the state’s failure to properly release inmates violates the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit seeks “compensatory damages on a per diem basis in an amount to be determined,” as well as attorney fees and appointment of “a special master to supervise Department of Corrections to ensure that all inmates are released on or before their release dates.”