The ACLU of Virginia and Relman Colfax PLLC filed a new case challenging Virginia Department of Correction's (VADOC) refusal to award expanded earned 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.
In its response to our lawsuit, the Virginia Department of Corrections announced that it had released Mr. Puryear on November 9, 2023 and would no longer withhold expanded earned sentence credits from people with convictions for attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit robbery or carjacking, based on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Prease v Clarke, which the ACLU of Virginia argued earlier this year.
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.
Mr. Leslie Puryear, 37, was among the hundreds of people who were told they were going home in the summer of 2022, only to have VADOC reverse course at the last minute and deny his release. Mr. Puryear had to tell his wife and four children that he would not be coming home – as well as abandon his family’s plans that he would attend his eldest child’s high school graduation.
Relman Colfax Partner Rebecca Livengood said:
“We’re thrilled that Mr. Puryear made it home for the holidays to his wife and children, who looked forward to his return more than a year ago only to have their hearts broken when VADOC reversed course. The department’s choice to treat some offenses as ineligible for earned sentence credits was a slap in the face to his family and to the Virginia lawmakers who had already decided that he and others in his position could earn sentence credits."
Mr. Puryear was 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.
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. Read our blog post to learn more about the specifics of Mr. Prease's case.
The ACLU of Virginia will push VADOC 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 our other earned sentence credit case.