After spending more than 400 days and $30,000 completing a work release sentence for a DUI, Chalmers Bradbury was eagerly counting the days till Dec. 9, when that sentence was set to end.
But when that date finally arrived, Bradbury was met only with bad news.
“I called the jail on the ninth to say ‘what time should I come in to give you my GPS and the breathalyzer I carry around?’,” Bradbury said. “And that’s when they said my (release) date had been changed to March 2.”
That change came as a shock to Bradbury, who had received an email as recently as Nov. 17 from a Sheriff’s Office staff member confirming that his work release sentence would end on Dec. 9.
That email also requested that Bradbury pay the rest of the $70 a day in rent he owed as part of the conditions of his work release at least two weeks prior to that date. He says no one at the jail mentioned any change to his sentence when he came in to make that payment.
However, when Bradbury asked a deputy about the change, he was told he was one of 200 people in the jail system — including 22 in the work release program — whose release date had been revised.
In an email to Colorado Community Media, Jeffco Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Michael Taplin said the Sheriff’s Office decided to make changes to the sentences after it determined some inmates were being given more credit for good behavior during their sentence (good time) than they were legally entitled to.
According to Taplin, inmates have been routinely given release dates at the start of their sentence that were calculated to reflect when they would be released if they received credit for both good behavior and fulfilling jail duties and paying fines (statutory time). However, the Sheriff’s Office recently determined it was erring by basing those deductions on the starting sentence rather than time actually served.
That meant that work release inmates like Bradbury, who are eligible to earn 0.43 days off their sentence for good behavior for each day they successfully complete in the work release program, were being told release dates that were calculated based on how much good behavior time they would earn for their full sentence before credit for time served was included.
As a result, an inmate who was sentenced to 100 days, but was being credited with 20 days already served before the sentence was given, would be given credit for nine days off their sentence that they had not actually earned.
But that explanation doesn’t sit well with Bradbury, who said it’s unfair for the jail to change people’s sentences so close to their release date.
“Dec. 9 has always been the date,” he said. “It’s insane they changed this calculation when they did. You don’t say `well, this guy has been here a year and a half and now we are going to do this.”
While Taplin said the move is motivated by a desire to make sure “inmates only earn good time for time they have actually served in a program such as work release,” Bradbury expects another motivation.
“This is a money grab,” said Bradbury. “Just for me alone, they are getting an extra $5,810 by extending my sentence because I pay $70 a day.”
In his email, Taplin wrote “all inmates were notified of the possibility of a change to their release date. On Nov. 1, these changes went into effect and inmates had the ability any time after Nov. 1 to look up their release date to see if it had changed.”
However, Bradbury said he was not giving any notification on Nov. 1 and says the suggestion that he and other inmates were makes no sense given that he was sent an email on Nov. 15 with the Dec. 9 date.
Bradbury has also provided Colorado Community Media with an email he received on Dec. 29 that addresses the recalculation of sentences. The email states “due to unforeseen circumstances EHD ([the work release program) staff were not available to notify each person of their change in expected release dates. You, however, have always had access 24/7 to look up your expected release date by logging into the Jefferson County website.”
Bradbury said the email is the first official communication he has received from the Sheriff’s Office about the change, which he feels is unacceptable given that it has come weeks after he thought he would be released.
“Whether it is legal or not legal, it is inhumane to provide prisoners with a date and then, without cause, change the date within hours of their original planned release,” said Jess Raths, a friend of Bradbury’s who is helping him look into the issue.
Beyond his current frustration, Bradbury said the experience is also making him eye March far more warily than he did December.
“I’m like `what’s to keep them from changing it again?” he said.