Lawsuit Filed Against AZ Department of Corrections After Misinterpretation of New Law
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 20, 2021
Sarai Bejarano | Manager of Traditional & Digital Media | [email protected] | 212-739-7581
Lawsuit Filed Against AZ Department of Corrections for Misinterpretation of State Law
Eligible Prisoners are Being Denied Opportunity to Earn Time off Their Sentences
ARIZONA — Today LatinoJustice PRLDEF sued the Arizona Department of Corrections for failing to provide earned release credits as required by law. In 2019, the Arizona legislature passed SB 1310, which provides limited earned release time to people who are convicted of certain minor drug crimes, provided that they take a treatment or educational program in prison, and provided they haven’t previously been convicted of one of a specific list of violent or aggravated felonies.
But when AZ DOC implemented SB 1310, it did not use the specific list of violent or aggravated felonies as mandated by the legislature, and instead unilaterally created its own, longer list, of offenses that it uses to deny early release credit as mandated by SB 1310. For example, SB 1310 only denies earned release credits to anyone previously convicted of two types of aggravated assault: assault that causes serious injury or assault that involves a deadly weapon. But AZ DOC, by policy, denies earned release credits under SB 1310 to anyone previously convicted of any type of aggravated assault.
Carlos Hernandez has twice been denied access to SB 1310 time credits improperly. In 2005, he pled guilty to aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer—a charge that does not deny him the time credits mandated by SB 1310. But, relying on the over-inclusive rule, the Arizona Department of Corrections denied him access to earned release credits twice. Hernandez wrote to AZ DOC to point out the error and his request was denied. His attorneys wrote to Commissioner Shinn, and the department stood by its over-inclusive rule.
There is no public information on how many other people may be affected by AZ DOC’s unlawful interpretation of SB 1310. Puente has joined the suit as plaintiff to identify others who have been wrongfully denied access to earned release credits, so they may seek relief as well.
“The Arizona Department of Corrections cannot misinterpret the clear mandates of SB 1310 and re-write a statute to imprison people longer than the law allows,” said Andrew Case, Senior Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We hope that this lawsuit, the first filed by LatinoJustice PRLDEF in Arizona,will compel the DOC to provide the relief from incarceration that the legislature mandated.”
“This is only one more example on a never-ending list of abuses committed by the ADOCRR against our incarcerated community members,” said Jovanna Renteria, Executive Director at Puente. “This rogue department has flouted policies and guidelines that attempt to protect our loved ones inside time and time again. We must know who has been impacted by the Department's denial of earned release credits and get our loved ones their lost time back, and we must hold the Department accountable for its abuse and neglect."
“SB 1310 encourages people convicted of low-level drug offenses to pursue treatment and their education while incarcerated,” said local counsel Larry Wulkan.” The Arizona Department of Corrections is ignoring a law which entitles a small group of people to early release credits. The department is not only violating their civil rights, it is discouraging them from obtaining treatment and education and costing Arizona taxpayers.”
LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For nearly 50 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout the country. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit www.LatinoJustice.org