By HUNTER T. GEORGE
OLYMPIA – The Washington Supreme Court today rejected a claim that the state had illegally transferred prison inmates to a private prison in Colorado.
The nine-member court unanimously ruled the state Department of Corrections had authority to relieve overcrowded conditions by temporarily transferring 254 inmates to the private Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs, Colo., in March 1999.
Many of the inmates filed lawsuits after Seattle attorney Suzanne Elliot went to court on behalf of Jason Hull and Russell Taylor, both serving time for second-degree murder, and Michael Matteson, convicted of child molestation. The other complaints were put on hold pending resolution of their case.
The inmates argued that the transfers occurred before the Legislature passed a law specifically allowing the move. They also accused the Corrections Department of denying their right to due process by failing to hold hearings that would have allowed the inmates to challenge the transfer.
Elliot argued that the inmates should be released.
The high court disagreed.
Justice Bobbe Bridge, writing for the majority, said the agency acted within its legal authority. And she said a hearing was not required since the temporary transfer was not a condition of punishment or the result of discipline.
Justices Gerry Alexander, Charles Johnson and Richard Sanders signed a separate opinion that concurred with the result to deny the inmates’ challenge. They expressed “substantial doubts” about whether the transfers were lawful, but said the point is moot since the inmates have since been returned to the state.
If the court had concluded that the transfer was illegal, the maximum relief the inmates could have received was to be returned to Washington, the justices said.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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