State to pay former inmate $7,600 for imprisoning too long - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

State to pay former inmate $7,600 for imprisoning too long

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The State Claims Board has decided to pay $7,600 to a former inmate who was kept more than a year beyond his release date as the result of errors by state corrections officials.

Robin Gavinski of Lake Mills had asked for $67,000 to compensate him for lost wages, missed business opportunities and attorney fees as a result of being kept in prison 417 days beyond his release date.

Corrections officials have admitted calculations made by staff members on Gavinski's release date were inaccurate

In urging the state claims board to award Gavinski nothing, corrections officials argued the state enjoys sovereign immunity against such claims, and also said Gavinski contributed to the problem by not flagging the error and bringing to the attention of authorities.

In the claims board findings, it is noted Gavinski also proposed an alternative settlement, asking that the formula used to compensate wrongly convicted inmates be applied to his case. Such a formula results in the $7,600 figure.

The board concluded equity principles dictate Gavinski receive an award, and the award should be in the reduced amount.

Gavinski's attorney, Tim Keifer says while Gavinski believed his larger compensation request was justified, he's satisfied the award validates the error and the state's role in it. "It's always hard to put a dollar value on a year of your life," Kiefer tells 27 News.

Gavinski and Kiefer also say the compensation was about more than money. The calculations in Gavinski's release date were performed by staff members with pen and paper, an apparent standard practice.

In its decision, the state claims board noted "...the Board...encourages the DOC to take steps to correct sentencing miscalculations of this nature."

"I think we need to get into the 21st century, that needs to be computerized, it needs to be a more foolproof system," Kiefer says.

In a statement from DOC, a spokesperson says as a result of the Gavinski case, a system of "centralized proofing" was adopted to head off potential mistakes in release date calculations. Gavinski's case involved more than one prison sentence, and the spokesperson says despite the complexity of some release date calculations, errors are rare.

But civil rights attorney Jeff Scott Olsen tells 27 news he's filed nearly a dozen lawsuits over errors in prison release dates, and says the state has paid settlement amounts in most of the cases. Olsen says in addition to computation errors,  judges have erred in applying relevant statutes to criminal sentences.

The DOC statement included no information on whether the department is considering computerizing the release date calculation process.

Gavinski was employed as a factory worker in a work release program during the period of his incarceration beyond his release date, and remains in that job.

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