A danger to corrections and the community: the reality of erroneous releases.

Author:Judge, Diana

"Late releases from prison deprive inmates of their liberty, while early releases can put communities at risk if the inmates are dangerous," said a May 2016 report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). (1) Due to a coding error in 2003, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) erroneously released inmate Daniel Franklin early. A few days later, he killed his ex-wife and her children. When calculating his release date, MDOC coded Franklin as an offender that was eligible for release, but in fact, due to his criminal history, he was not eligible for release until approximately 2006. (2)

In that previously mentioned report, OIG conducted a review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' (FBOP) processes for ensuring inmates were released on their correct release date between 2009 and 2014. This review found that 4,183 offenders got released "untimely." FBOP indicated that of the 4,183 untimely releases, 157 were due to staff error, and 152 served too much time. The monetary cost of incarcerating the 152 offenders that served too much time totaled $680,000, and litigation added another $669,814, totaling $1,349,814, and that is just for the latter 152 offenders. It does not take into consideration the cost of the 4,340 offenders that were released untimely due to circumstances beyond the control of FBOP. (3)

Are these untimely or erroneous releases rare or sporadic? The answer is no. Erroneous releases of offenders trace back to the 1930s, where courts ruled in several cases related to erroneous releases. In the 1960s and 1970s, the courts ruled on more of these cases. There have also been additional cases in Wyoming, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Rhode Island, Maine, Nebraska, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, to name a few, along with releases within the U.S. federal government. OIG reports the erroneous releases from FBOP resulted from inaccurate application of jail credit, incorrect identification of primary jurisdiction, or inaccurate calculation of concurrent or consecutive sentences. (4)

Calculating release dates

Corrections professionals and laypeople often ask, "How is this possible?" When the court says, "10 years of prison," how difficult is it to calculate a proper release date? Calculating release dates is complex and dependent upon a number of factors and variables. A few of them are as follows: Is the sentence determinate or indeterminate? Is the sentence the only sentence for this offender? Are there...

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