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Court rules on literacy program, educational credit time

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While applauding a prison inmate for pursuing higher education while behind bars, the Indiana Court of Appeals has determined that man shouldn’t receive additional educational credit time for a program the state system doesn’t consider to fit into its definition of “literacy and life skills” programs.

Issuing a unanimous opinion today in Indiana Department of Correction v. Douglas Haley, No. 56A03-0911-CR-553, the appellate panel reversed a Newton Superior judge’s ruling that a convicted cocaine dealer should receive six months of credit time for completing a DOC life skills program, “Thinking for a Change.”

The state agency had declined his motion for that credit, arguing that it only fit one component of state statute about “basic life skills” but not another involving “literacy.” The DOC asserted a “literacy” program is a term of art originating in the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of 1998, and that it doesn’t apply to someone pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher education at the level Haley was in this case. Though Indiana Code 35-50-6-3.3 awards two years credit time for earning a bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t permit someone to earn credit time under two different provisions for the same program of study as Haley was contending should be allowed.

Based on that language, the appellate court deferred to the DOC interpretation and found the trial judge had erred in allowing the six months of credit time.

“That does not mean that Haley is ineligible for any educational credit, however,” Judge Terry Crone wrote, noting that he could receive the two-year credit but nothing in the court record reflects that’s been applied for or received. “Haley’s argument has merit, and moreover, we applaud him for seeking and attaining such a high level of education. However, our rules of statutory construction require that we read the statute as a whole.”

The appellate court reversed the trial court judge on that issue, and also held that the prosecuting attorney isn’t authorized by statute to represent DOC in a non-criminal matter as such disputes are between an inmate and the state agency.
 

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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

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