A proposed class action claims several New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) officials have unlawfully denied incarcerated individuals enrollment into a court-ordered early release program.
According to the case, the plaintiff was denied admission to the Shock Incarceration Program—a six-month intensive boot camp program that includes substance abuse treatment, therapy, education and other reintegration services—despite being sentenced by a judge to enroll in the program.
The lawsuit claims the defendants—Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci, Deputy DOCCS Commissioner Jeffrey McKoy, and several other DOCCS officials—have maintained an unconstitutional policy of ignoring court orders to enroll incarcerated individuals in Shock, thereby depriving them of the program’s benefits.
“In denying [the plaintiff] admission to Shock, defendants—officers and supervisors at DOCCS—acted pursuant to a policy they had—and, apparently, still have—of depriving individuals like plaintiff from Shock where defendants see fit—and regardless of what their sentencing judge ordered,” the complaint reads.
As a result of this policy, the defendants have allegedly denied early release benefits to incarcerated individuals such as the plaintiff, who the suit says could have been released from prison 506 days earlier than he was due to the defendants’ actions.
“[The plaintiff] and the class of people he seeks to represent were incarcerated for months—and years—longer than they would have had the Shock aspect of their sentences been honored and carried out,” the complaint scathes.
Per the complaint, the U.S. Constitution prohibits public officials, including the DOCCS commissioner and his subordinates, from prolonging an individual’s period of incarceration beyond the release date set by the sentencing court.
The case argues that the defendants also should have been well aware of the changes initiated under the Drug Law Reform Act of 2009 (DLRA), including that judges could now offer court-mandated substance abuse treatment by sentencing people to Shock. Ever since 2009, the suit says, state prison officials could only screen out judicially sentenced eligible inmates—those who are eligible for release within three years, are younger than 50 years old, and have never been convicted of a violent felony—from Shock if they have a medical or mental health condition that would prevent them from successfully completing the program. Even then, the DLRA requires that DOCCS adhere to the court-ordered sentence by offering an “alternative-to-shock-incarceration program” for those with medical or mental health conditions, the case explains.
All told, the lawsuit says the defendants have “no discretion or authority” to refuse to enroll in Shock an incarcerated individual who has been sentenced to the program and has no medical or mental health condition that would preclude their participation.
Although the defendants “unmistakably lack the authority” to deny statutorily eligible individuals from enrolling in Shock, DOCCS officials have made clear that it is their policy, regardless of court orders, to consider an inmate’s disciplinary record or infractions to determine whether or not the individual will be enrolled in Shock, the suit says. In particular, the lawsuit claims the defendants have unlawfully added to the criteria for determining Shock eligibility by requiring that individuals remain free of disciplinary tickets for drug use.
According to the suit, this policy is not only unlawful, but “illogical and cruel.” In the plaintiff’s case, the defendants designed “a nightmarish Catch-22” by barring the man from enrolling in the substance abuse program because he had abused substances while incarcerated, the lawsuit states.
“In essence,” the complaint reads, “[the plaintiff’s] assigned rehabilitation coordinator informed [the plaintiff] that, even though he was incarcerated for a drug offense and consequently expressly ordered by the court to undergo this rehabilitative Shock program as part of a lawfully and duly-imposed sentence, DOCCS would assert authority and discretion to exclude him on the basis of his drug-related prison disciplinary dispositions from the very rehabilitative program he needed.”
Only when the plaintiff challenged the defendants’ decision in court was he granted enrollment in Shock, the suit says, with the Albany Supreme Court finding that “the controlling statutes do not permit DOCCS to administratively bar an inmate from entering the shock program when shock has been judicially ordered.”
According to the case, the plaintiff and other incarcerated individuals suffered “significant damage” by being deprived of needed substance abuse treatment and the opportunity for early release upon successful completion of Shock.
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