State recalculates inmate release dates

November 19, 2009 5:33:23 PM PST
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue said Thursday the Department of Correction has recalculated the release dates of 31 inmates who were sentenced to life behind bars, but were about to be released after a controversial ruling by the State Supreme Court.Perdue said the change would comply with the decisions of the appellate courts in the State v. Bowden case. According to the recalculations, the earliest unconditional release date is scheduled for 2054. The inmates could still be eligible for parole before that.

"I will continue to pursue all legal means of preventing the release of these inmates without any review by the parole board or any post-release supervision,” said Gov. Perdue."

State officials began scrambling to try and block the release after the Supreme Court limited the length of so-called life sentences handed down in the 1970s to a term of 80 years.

Under a law passed in 1974, a life sentence was not defined as "until the prisoner died."

With time off for good behavior and other credits, the inmates - convicted murderers or rapists - argued that they had served their time.

Click here for more information on each inmate (.pdf)

Perdue has said she was opposed to unconditionally releasing the men and one woman without supervision. The Governor's office said the recalculation did not mean that the state would stop awarding time off for good behavior, the time would be applied to a parole date, not an unconditional release date.

Lawyers for inmate Bobby Bowden were behind the appeal that limited life sentences to 80 years - something Perdue conceded in her statement Thursday.

Staples Hughes, the state appellate defender whose office represented Bowden, said it was regrettable the state was spending so much time and money pursuing an argument that has no legal basis.

"They, in essence, are continuing to attempt to defy the rule of law," Hughes said. "It has long since ceased to be a legal issue. It is simply a political issue and a mechanism for the governor to use to attempt to raise her popularity."

The potential releases appalled victims and their advocates, partially because most of the inmates would be freed without any post-release supervision. Only one would have had official supervision, although those convicted of rape would have to register as sex offenders.

A handful of those inmates have been working toward time outside of prison, using volunteer or work-release programs to spend time in society. They can eventually be approved for supervised release by the parole board.

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