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WA Prisoners Entitled to Minimal Due Process Before Risk Level Demotion

Division 1 of the Washington Court of Appeals has ruled that the State Department of Corrections (DOC) must afford minimal due process to prisoners whose risk assessment levels it intends to demote.

In 2000, Dion Xavier Adams, a Washington State prisoner, was sentenced to 108 months in prison for drug convictions. At the time, Washington prisoners could receive only a 33% sentence reduction for good conduct.

But in 2003 the legislature enacted RCW 9.94A.728(1)(b), which allowed some low-risk prisoners to earn a 50% good conduct reduction. Such prisoners must have had no violence or sex offenses in their past, and a DOC risk assessment must place them in levels RM-C or RM-D. Those in RM-A and RM-B didn't qualify.

In March of 2004, the DOC found that Adams qualified for the 50% reduction. In July the DOC demoted Adams' risk assessment level and decided that Adams no longer qualified for the 50% reduction, without allowing him to be heard. Adams filed a personal restraint petition (PRP) claiming his good time had been miscalculated.

Division 1 rejected Adams' arguments that the DOC couldn't conduct a second assessment on him and that the assessment model itself was unlawful. The appeals court found that the plain language of RCW 9.94A.728 defeated those arguments.

However, Division 1 agreed with Adams' argument that the DOC's demotion of his risk assessment level without allowing him to be heard was a due process violation. DOC engaged in a retrospective review of Adams' criminal history and prison records in deciding to change the previous risk assessment score, the Court found, which required "written notice of the reasons DOC is seeking to change Adams' classification and an opportunity to challenge the facts DOC relied on from his files to reach that decision."

The appeals court therefore granted Adams' Personal Restraint Petition. See: In re Personal Restraint of Adams, 132 Wash.App. 640, 134 P.3d 1176 (Wash.App. Div. 1, 2006).

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