PORTLAND — When he pleaded guilty to eluding an officer in Kennebec County in 2012, Glen C. Harrington III thought he would be eligible to take classes at the Maine State Prison to reduce his sentence.
But he soon learned that program is not offered to inmates until they are within 18 months of release, so he challenged the Department of Corrections over the issue.
Harrington believes he should be getting an extra “good time” credit of two days a month during the entire time he is serving his sentence. Without that, Harrington’s attorney calculates he will serve “72 days over that intended by the Legislature.”
However, after a Superior Court judge dismissed the attempt to get that credit via a post conviction review petition process, Harrington, 30, formerly of Fairfield, appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
On Wednesday, six Supreme Court justices heard Harrington’s attorney, James T. Lawley, argue that denying Harrington the credit is unconstitutional and that the post-conviction review is the proper method for handling it. He also said Harrington would not have pleaded guilty to eluding an officer if he had known he would not get the extra days’ credit.
Inmates are eligible to receive seven days a month good time credit, and two extra days “following the inmate’s satisfactory completion of certain education or rehabilitation programs.”
In a handwritten motion for correction of sentence, Harrington, representing himself at the time, wrote, “I took these two 48 month concurrent sentences on the grounds and understandings that I would receive nine days a month goodtime. After I get sentenced, I learn that I’m not allowed the nine days a month due to the fact there isn’t any programs available to me to get nine days a month. That’s not my fault.”
Lawley told the court, “This is a global policy that applies to every single inmate.”
The state, represented at oral arguments by Assistant Attorney General Diane Sleek, maintains that Harrington should have used a different appeal process — not post conviction review — to file his dispute over the calculation of his good time credits.
In a written brief, Assistant District Attorney Fernand LaRochelle wrote, “The Superior Court was correct in concluding that the Department of Corrections’ decision that Harrington is not presently eligible for the extra good-time credits is a calculation because, as the letter from the assistant classification officer at the Maine State prison demonstrates, the department has been calculating Harrington’s good time based upon what he is currently eligible to receive under the statutes and department policies.
“Thus the superior to court correctly concluded that the department has performed the sort of good-time calculation which … is now excluded from post-conviction review.”
The justices appeared reluctant to interfere with Department of Corrections operations and noted the department’s limited resources.
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said the Legislature initiated the program and the extra credits to help the transition of inmates back into the community.
Justice Joseph Jabar asked whether Lawley wanted the calculation changed. “You want him to get the two days even though he’s not in the program?”
Justice Ellen Gorman also noted that Harrington was not currently receiving all the good time credits for which he is eligible. Lawley acknowledged his client had some problems at the prison.
And Justice Donald Alexander asked whether the case was moot because Harrington is now eligible for the education and other programs leading to release. Lawley said it’s not moot because his client has lost those days.
Sleek said the other appeal vehicle, known as an 80-C, was preferable to use because it is more streamlined and could be handled in the jurisdiction where an inmate is serving the sentence rather than in the original sentencing court.
Gorman also noted that inmates would not have lawyers to represent them. In response, Sleek said a there is a paralegal available and inmates in the prisons have access to Westlaw, an online legal research service.
In a post-conviction review process, inmates can ask for court-appointed lawyers.
Harrington is at the prison serving a 48 month term, which runs to a 48 month revocation of probation on a robbery conviction in Somerset County. According to the Department of Corrections website, his earliest release date is Dec. 7, 2015.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issues decisions in writing weeks and sometimes months after the oral arguments.