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Denial of New Jersey Work Credits Violates Equal Protection

A New Jersey appellate court held that denying work credits to prisoners serving concurrent New Jersey sentences in other states violates the equal protection clause of the New Jersey Constitution.

On February 11, 1978, Charles VanWinkle began serving a seventeen and one-half to thirty-five year sentence in Pennsylvania. Pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), [he] was temporarily transferred from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to stand trial for pending charges.
In October 1978, VanWinkle was sentenced in three New Jersey cases to an aggregate minimum sentence of twenty-two years and a maximum sentence of fifty-five years. All sentences were imposed concurrently to VanWinkle's Pennsylvania sentence.

Following sentencing in New Jersey, VanWinkle was returned to Pennsylvania pursuant to the provisions of the IAD, where he continued serving his Pennsylvania sentence and concurrent New Jersey sentences[,]" until paroled to his New Jersey detainer on June 14, 1994.

In April 2001, VanWinkle sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections requesting his work record so that New Jersey could use this information to award him additional work credits." Pennsylvania authorities notified the New Jersey Department of Corrections of VanWinkle's request. New Jersey officials then notified VanWinkle that work credits he may have earned in Pennsylvania are not credited against his" New Jersey sentences.

On appeal, the Superior Court rejected VanWinkle's claim that N.J.S.A. 30:4-92 entitled him to receive credit for work performed while confined in Pennsylvania, concluding that out-of-state institutions are not included within N.J.S.A. 30:18-B.

The court also rejected VanWinkle's claim that his right to equal protection of the law was violated because he would have been entitled to the work credits had he been transferred to Pennsylvania pursuant to the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC), N.J.S.A. 30:7C-1 to -12." The court noted that VanWinkle was transferred under the IAD not the ICC and he was not treated differently from similarly situated prisoners because he was not even eligible to be transferred to Pennsylvania under the ICC.
The court agreed, however, with VanWinkle's equal protection claim on another basis. The court concluded that there is no conceivable, much less rational, basis to distinguish, for purpose of work time credits, between prisoners serving a sentence in State and those serving concurrent time out-of-state such as" VanWinkle. The court noted that the New Jersey DOC offered no reasoned basis for distinguishing between the two classes of offenders, held that N.J.S.A. 20:4-92 was unconstitutional as applied to VanWinkle and remanded for a determination of the amount of work credits he was entitled to receive. See: VanWinkle v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, 850 A. 2d 548 (NJ App. Div. 2004).

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