Venman v. Patrissi

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                                No. 89-588

Robert Venman                                Supreme Court

     v.                                      On Appeal from
                                             Rutland Superior Court
Joseph Patrissi, Commissioner,
Department of Corrections and                February Term, 1991
Michael O'Malley, Superintendent,
Rutland Community Correctional Center

Frank G. Mahady, J.

Walter M. Morris, Jr., Defender General, and Jeffrey Dworkin, Prisoners'
  Rights Office, Montpelier, for plaintiff-appellant

Jeffrey L. Amestoy, Attorney General, Montpelier, and Thomas J. Rushford,
  Assistant Attorney General, Waterbury, for defendants-appellees

PRESENT:  Allen, C.J., Gibson, Dooley and Johnson, JJ.

     JOHNSON, J.   Plaintiff appeals from a declaratory ruling by the
superior court that upheld the Department of Corrections' application  of
the good-time credit statute, 28 V.S.A. { 811.  The statute allows reduction
of an inmate's sentence by up to ten days for every month served with no
infractions of the rules and regulations of the correctional facility.
Plaintiff was sentenced to zero to three years, with all time suspended
except thirty days.  The Department of Corrections does not interpret the
statute to apply to part of a month, so that incarcerated persons are
required to serve more than one month before receiving any credit for good
behavior.  Because plaintiff's sentence is exactly thirty days, he is not
eligible to receive good-time credit and will be required to serve the full
     Plaintiff contends the statute should be interpreted as applicable to
part of a month, entitling inmates to earn one day of good-time credit for
every three days of good behavior.  He claims the department's
interpretation creates anomalies that violate the state and federal
constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the laws.  Because the
statute is plain on its face and rationally related to a legitimate
governmental interest, we affirm the judgment of the superior court.
     Section 811 provides:
         Each inmate sentenced to imprisonment and committed to
         the custody of the commissioner for a fixed term or
         terms shall earn a reduction of ten days in the term of
         his confinement for each month during which he has
         faithfully observed all the rules and regulations of the
         institution to which he is committed.

The language of the statute states unequivocally that good-time credit is
earned after a month of appropriate behavior.  In giving effect to the
intent of the legislature, "[w]e presume that the plain, ordinary meaning of
statutory language is intended."  State v. Yudichak, 147 Vt. 418, 420, 519 A.2d 1150, 1151 (1986).  Had the legislature intended that inmates be given
one day of good-time credit for every three days of good behavior, as
plaintiff urges, it would have expressed its intent in those terms.
     We are similarly unpersuaded by defendant's argument that the statute,
as applied by the Department of Corrections, is an unconstitutional depri-
vation of his right to equal protection of the laws.  The computation of
good-time credit does not implicate fundamental rights.  Trivento v.
Commissioner of Corrections, 135 Vt. 475, 479, 380 A.2d 69, 72 (1977); see
also McGinnis v. Royster, 410 U.S. 263, 270, 277 (1973)(upholding New York
good-time-credit statute in the face of an equal protection challenge).
Therefore, discriminatory classifications created by good-time statutes,
based on length of time served, are reviewed under the rational-basis test.
Trivento at 479, 380 A.2d  at 72.  The purpose of the statute is to promote
internal prison administration.  See id. at 480, 380 A.2d  at 73.  The
evidence at trial showed that short-term inmates are not viewed as
discipline problems and that the incentive of statutory good-time credit is
largely irrelevant in compelling good behavior.  Therefore, it was not
irrational for the legislature to require that an inmate serve at least a
month with good behavior before he is eligible to earn good-time credit.
Nor is it irrational to conclude that awarding good-time credit for good
behavior during longer blocks of time, one month versus three days, provides
a greater incentive for sustained appropriate behavior.  Thus, the statute
bears a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose.  The Vermont
Constitution does not compel a different result.  Choquette v. Perrault, 153
Vt. 45, 52, 569 A.2d 455, 459 (1989) ("[t]he test . . . in determining a
law's constitutionality under Article 7 when no fundamental right or suspect
class is involved, is whether the law is reasonably related to the promotion
of a valid public purpose").

                                        FOR THE COURT:

                                        Associate Justice