Many of our recent posts have discussed wrongful imprisonment. In many cases, individuals are wrongfully imprisoned because they were mistakenly convicted of crimes they did not commit. But there are other cases in which prisoners who have been legitimately convicted are mistakenly imprisoned for longer than what their sentence dictates.
This recently happened to a Wisconsin man. Due to a mistake made by the state Department of Corrections and compounded by a series of other events, the man was kept locked up for an additional 417 days. He is now petitioning the state claims board for $67,000 in lost wages, but DOC officials are arguing that he doesn’t deserve any compensation.
He was originally convicted for crimes that included burglary. His sentences for various convictions were supposed to be served concurrently (meaning at the same time). But Department of Corrections officials calculated his release date based on the incorrect interpretation that the sentences were to be served consecutively.
In a document submitted to the state claims board, the DOC argues that “the Claimant and his trial counsel share a significant portion of the responsibility by failing to timely clarify any ambiguity in the Judgment of Conviction or to correct any mistake made in calculating his sentence.” In short, the DOC is saying that the incarcerated prisoner shares blame because he didn’t point out the DOC’s mistake.
This argument seems illogical in and of itself. But it is especially illogical in light of the fact that the defendant’s trial attorney passed away before the sentence was extended. As such, the defendant’s attorney could not be a watchdog to correct the DOC’s mistake. Moreover, the defendant didn’t have the resources needed to challenge the DOC’s sentence calculation on his own.
It is well understood that human beings make mistakes. In fact, our criminal justice system was designed, in part, around the idea that people who make mistakes or exercise bad judgment can be rehabilitated as well as punished. So what kind of message is sent when the Wisconsin Department of Corrections refuses to take responsibility for its own mistakes and instead blames the very people harmed by those errors?
Source: WKOW, “Corrections: Inmate kept too long in prison deserves nothing,” Tony Galli, Jan. 20, 2014