The ACLU of Virginia filed a new case challenging Virginia Department of Correction's (VADOC) refusal to award expanded sentence credits to people with certain convictions, unlawfully extending their incarceration. This is one of several cases that the ACLU of Virginia is filing to ensure the earned sentence credit program is properly applied to those who are eligible.
Mr. Garcia Vasquez's case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Virginia in January of 2024.
Since 1995, the earned sentence credit program has made it possible for some people incarcerated in Virginia to earn their release. In 2020, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a law increasing how many credits people can earn. This expansion of the program was expected to impact thousands of people currently incarcerated in VADOC facilities.
Yet for more than a year, VADOC has been improperly withholding earned sentence credits from people who are eligible to earn them. The law clearly states which convictions for attempts or conspiracies to commit certain offenses are eligible for the additional earned sentence credits, but VADOC has ignored the law in order to withhold credits from people whose convictions are not listed among the excluded crimes. The Virginia Supreme Court recently invalidated one aspect of VADOC’s interpretation of the law in Prease v. Clarke, but VADOC has refused to apply that decision to other convictions.
Mr. Jose Garcia Vasquez, 24, has never seen his daughter – now a second grader – outside of prison. In between completing college classes, an electrician course, and working 30 hours every week in a prison job, he squeezes in time to talk to her every single day on the phone.
Mr. Garcia Vasquez is one of thousands of people who followed all the rules of the earned sentence credit program, only to have VADOC’s unlawful interpretation of the law deny them the release they had already worked hard to earn.
Vasquez v. Dotson is the third case that the ACLU of Virginia has filed on behalf of incarcerated people who were told they would be released, only to be told later they didn’t qualify for the earned sentence credit program.
The Supreme Court of Virginia already ruled in Prease v. Clarke, agreeing that VADOC’s interpretation of the law is incorrect and ordering Mr. Steven Prease’s immediate release to his family in southwest Virginia.
The ACLU of Virginia will push VDOC to extend this ruling to everyone else who we believe is being unlawfully held in prison, and we look forward to the Court's ruling on all of our earned sentence credit cases.