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Appeals court upholds ban on parole-credits program

SOMERSET — A ban on releasing prison inmates under a controversial parole-credit program was proper, the state Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

So far, the ban has applied only in a three-county area of southern Kentucky, but a prosecutor said he will ask a judge to strike down use of the law statewide.

The case involves changes that give felons additional credit toward completing their sentences. That means they are released from prison or from parole supervision earlier than under previous rules.

The goal of the changes was to save money by reducing the state's prison population.

Since May, the state Department of Corrections has released more than 3,000 people from prison or parole under the new program.

Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery, the prosecutor for Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties, challenged the changes last year.

Montgomery argued that the rules are unconstitutional and illegal, in part because felons get credit for time spent previously on parole to win release from prison on their current sentences.

Last September, Circuit Judge David A. Tapp issued a temporary injunction barring the state from using the new rules to release anyone sentenced from the three-county circuit.

The Department of Corrections appealed. That resulted in the Court of Appeals ruling filed Monday in Pulaski Circuit Court.

The ruling by a three-judge panel said Tapp properly considered the issues in the case and did not abuse his discretion in issuing the injunction.

Montgomery and a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jack Conway, whose office handled the appeal, said they were pleased with the ruling.

The appeals panel said the bill that changed how state officials calculate when people get out of prison did not authorize credit from periods before the law took effect, Montgomery said.

"I think what they did is illegal," he said of the Department of Corrections.

Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said the department is reviewing its options under the ruling, including whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Montgomery said he will ask Tapp to strike down the release program altogether at a hearing next week.

If the judge does so, his order could apply statewide, Montgomery said.

Conway filed a separate challenge to the parole-credits program in Franklin Circuit Court.

Judge Phillip J. Shepherd made a different decision than Tapp, denying Conway's request for an injunction while the case was pending.

Conway has appealed that ruling. His challenge to the parole-credits program is pending.