On Thursday, the ACLU of Alaska filed suit in state court to protect the civil rights and liberties of incarcerated people returning home and seeking transitional opportunities to reintegrate into the community after serving decades in state prisons.

Each client, like all incarcerated people, maintains their rights to due process and equal protection, as promised by the Alaska and U.S. Constitutions. However, for Jace Frankson, Sababu Hodari, Jonathan Walker, and Geoffrey Mathis, the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) has violated those fundamental rights through its arbitrary and unlawful interpretation of a “firm release date.”

An individual’s “firm release date” is defined by state regulation as “the date on which a prisoner is schedule to be released, as established by statutory good time calculation, court order, or parole board action.” DOC uses this date to determine eligibility for transitional programming and reintegration opportunities; only individuals approaching the end of their sentence can access such critical opportunities.

Frankson, Hodari, Walker, and Mathis were each granted discretionary parole by the state parole board, moving up their court-ordered release date. The newer release date ordered by the Parole Board should allow our clients to participate in programs designed to assist people safely and successfully to reintegrate back into the community.  But DOC refuses to recognize the release dates set by the Parole Board. 

“Because of DOC’s irrational interpretation of this regulation, our clients cannot access these crucial transitional programs, which would provide them great help adjusting to life outside the confines of prisons and becoming productive members of society outside prison walls,” said ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Ruth Botstein. “But what’s more troubling is the ways in which this arbitrary interpretation blatantly violates the due process and equal protections rights of Alaskans in state custody. This does not serve our government, which boasts the need for successful reentry, and it does not serve the communities that will absorb these individuals and try to help them succeed in our neighborhoods.”

The ACLU of Alaska is seeking the following from the court:

To issue judgment that the State of Alaska’s refusal to honor the firm release dates set by the parole board is a violation of due process and equal protection.

To order DOC to consider plaintiffs and other people in the same position for opportunities to transition back into the community.

“These programs help Alaskans leaving our prisons build positive social bonds outside of a carceral setting, they reunify families, and they provide job skills and employment opportunities,” said ACLU of Alaska Prison Project Director Megan Edge. “If utilized properly, these programs aren’t just an investment in the people participating in the programs, these opportunities are investments in our communities. These programs build healthier, stronger, and safer neighborhoods.”

The State of Alaska has 40 days to respond.