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ACLU files suit for Va. inmate whose prison sentence was lengthened by changes to earned credit program

Last month, the General Assembly passed a budget amendment that excluded those with violent offenses from state’s earned sentence credit program

By Katie King
The Virginian-Pilot

RICHMOND, Va. - The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an imprisoned person whose slated release date was pushed back because of a recent policy change that impacted hundreds of prisoners.

“We are hoping that this will prompt other attorneys to bring cases on behalf of more people,” said Vishal Agraharkar, the organization’s senior staff attorney.

A law in 2020 expanded the state’s earned sentence credit program, allowing someone imprisoned for multiple nonviolent offenses to have time shaved off for good conduct on those convictions, even if they had one other conviction from a violent crime. Last month, the General Assembly passed a budget amendment from Gov. Glenn Youngkin that partially reversed that policy, blocking those with any violent offenses from participating.

As a result of the reversal, Antoinne Anderson, an inmate at Coffeewood Correctional Center in Mitchells, had his release date pushed back from August 2022 to April 2024 by the Virginia Department of Corrections.

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in the Albemarle County Circuit Court, alleges that this was unlawful because Anderson had already earned his sentence credits and the budget amendment did not contain language specifying that it should be applied retroactively.

“As a result of the VDOC’s misapplication of the law, Mr. Anderson will miss out on family milestones and precious time with relatives who may not have much time left,” states the suit. “He planned to spend time with his 83-year-old father, who has cancer and is in poor health.”

A spokesperson for the DOC declined to comment Tuesday.

Hundreds of other inmates who were slated for release this summer now remain in custody as a result of the reversal.

“They had earned those sentence reductions and had their dates recalculated, and the Department of Corrections had prepared them for release and prepared their families for their release,” Agraharkar said. “They were relying on those promises and had their families hopes up and their own hopes up.”

Youngkin has previously stated that the 2020 law was too far reaching and explained his amendment was intended to correct “an error” that allowed those with a violent offense to benefit.

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