By Jason Clayworth
Iowa inmates held beyond their proper release dates won’t be compensated, a federal appeals court ruled today.
Had the former inmates been successful in their suit, they could have cost Iowa taxpayers millions of dollars in settlements.
The lawsuit was on behalf of Mahaska County sex offender [name withheld] and other inmates who contend they were held too long under new rules outlined in a 2011 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Iowa justices ruled that convicted sex offender [name withheld] deserved credit for time spent under home supervision even though he was later found to have violated probation during that time.
According to the decision, Iowa law clearly requires that any defendant committed to the state Department of Corrections for supervision "who has probation revoked shall be given credit for such time served."
That ruling changed the math used to calculate prison relate dates for 3,444 prisoners.
Discharge dates were checked and double-checked as part of a review completed in early November of 2011, roughly four months after the court’s ruling. That process led to the immediate release of 551 inmates from prison and work release programs and recalculation of a new release date for 2,588 others.
The class action lawsuit, filed against Iowa Department of Corrections director John Baldwin, said that "hundreds if not thousands of Iowa inmates" had been detained past the dates they properly should have been set free.
Court papers alleged that the state's failure to properly release inmates violates the fourth, eighth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit sought "compensatory damages on a per diem basis in an amount to be determined," as well as attorney fees and appointment of "a special master to supervise Department of Corrections to ensure that all inmates are released on or before their release dates."
State officials said compensation could have cost $100 or more a day for many of the prisoners.
William Benton, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, concluded in a ruling issued today that a prior district court ruling was affirmed. That ruling determined that Baldwin has what is known as “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials from liability when working in their official capacities. That effectively closes the case since individuals -- not government entities-- must be named as defendants in federal lawsuits.
Jeff Lipman, a Des Moines area attorney who represented [name withheld], could not immediately be reached for comment. It’s possible that the issue could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
William Hill, an assistant attorney general, praised today’s decision, saying Iowa officials moved as quickly as possible following the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2011 decision.
“We’re pleased with the result,” Hill said. “The Iowa Department of Corrections moved quickly and properly applied the credit as soon as it was possible to do so.”