Price v. Wade Correctional Center
Should individuals who violate parole conditions after completing a prison term lose the lion’s share of the good-time credit they previously earned while incarcerated? Not according to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently ruled in favor of a man who was denied his good-time credits by the state of Louisiana.
The court granted relief to Richard Price, who was sentenced for armed robbery in 1985 in the Bayou State. Paroled in 2003, he later violated a release condition and his parole was revoked. The state also revoked all of the good-time credit he had accumulated prior to parole, citing a 1997 change in the law mandating that parole violations would result in the forfeiture of credits. (The State Legislature, in changing the law, did not say that the loss of credits could be applied retroactively.) Prior to the change, the law stated that an inmate could lose no more than 180 days of good-time credit following a parole violation.
Price exhausted administrative efforts to maintain his good-time credit and sought aid from the courts, arguing the rules were being applied retroactively. The state attempted to argue that its application of the law was not retroactive since the changes in the good-time credit law were enacted prior to Price’s parole. In 2011, the Louisiana Supreme Court sided with the state, issuing a one-word ruling: “Denied.” A federal district court upheld the state high-court ruling on the matter.
However, in May, the Fifth Circuit ruled (in Price v. Wade Correctional Center) that the state erred and had indeed applied the law retroactively, which was not permissible. It cited a U.S. Supreme Court summary judgment, Scafati v. Greenfield, a Massachusetts case, and said the facts of both cases were “indistinguishable.”
“The (Louisiana prison warden) argues that no Supreme Court opinion clearly establishes that applying Louisiana’s good-time forfeiture law to Price violated (state law) because the application of the law was ‘triggered by misconduct committed by the petitioner after the new law [was] enacted.’ In Greenfield, the Massachusetts prison superintendent argued that Massachusetts law was not retrospective because it was in effect before the prisoner was paroled, and ‘the relevant act [was] the [prisoner’s] violation of the terms of his parole, and not the commission of the original offense,’ ” the Fifth Circuit wrote.
“By summarily affirming in Greenfield, the Court necessarily held that a good-time forfeiture law enacted after a prisoner’s sentencing is retrospective, even if forfeiture is triggered by the parolee’s post-enactment conduct. Unless the particular facts presented in Greenfield render it inapplicable to this case, the rule in Greenfield is clearly established and controls here,” the Fifth Circuit said.
In granting relief to Price, I believe the Fifth Circuit did the right thing in the face of Louisiana’s hardcore approach to incarceration. It remains to be seen if, in other matters, that approach will be held in check in the future — either legislatively or judicially. But, at least now there seems to be precedent in favor of inmates convicted prior to the 1997 change in the state’s good-time credit law.