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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Felton Yawn #237598 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Felton Yawn #237598

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter comes before the Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or Division) pursuant to the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). Appellant Felton Yawn appeals the calculation of his earned work credits by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC or Department). Having reviewed the record, applicable law, and the briefs filed by the parties in this matter, I conclude that the decision of the Department must be affirmed.


On December 18, 2000, Appellant filed a grievance with the Department in which he contends that the Department is improperly "storing" his earned work credits rather than applying them toward his sentence. Specifically, Appellant notes that he "has maintained a steady work record since incarceration, and his current release date has not reflected any change since becoming assigned to the institution." "Inmate's Reason for Appeal," Grievance No. ACI 1126-00, Inmate Grievance Form, Step 2. The Department determined that Appellant was properly receiving his work credits and denied the grievance. On appeal, Appellant again contends that the Department "is incorrectly and unconstitutionally depriving [him] of [his] earned work credits." Appellant's Notice of Appeal at 1. ANALYSIS

In Al-Shabazz, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that inmates may seek review of final decisions of the Department in certain "non-collateral" or administrative matters (i.e., those matters in which an inmate does not challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence) by appealing those decisions to the ALJD pursuant to the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 376, 527 S.E.2d at 754. In McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, a majority of the judges of the ALJD, sitting en banc, held that this tribunal's jurisdiction to hear inmate appeals under Al-Shabazz is limited to: (1) cases in which an inmate contends that prison officials have erroneously calculated his sentence, sentence-related credits, or custody status, and (2) cases in which the Department has taken an inmate's created liberty interest as punishment in a major disciplinary hearing. McNeil v. S.C. Dep't of Corrections, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, slip op. at 4-5 (S.C. Admin. Law Judge. Div. Sept. 5, 2001) (en banc). In the case at hand, Appellant contends that the Department improperly calculated his earned work credits; accordingly, this tribunal has jurisdiction over this matter.

When reviewing the Department's decisions in inmate grievance matters, the ALJD sits in an appellate capacity. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 377, 527 S.E.2d at 754. Consequently, this tribunal's review of inmate appeals is confined to the record presented, id., and its inquiry into these matters is primarily concerned with ensuring that the Department has granted aggrieved inmates the process they are due when their constitutional rights are implicated. Id. at 369, 527 S.E.2d at 750; McNeil, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, at 5 ("[O]ur review is limited solely to the determination of whether the Department granted 'minimal due process' in reaching [its] decisions . . . ."). Further, recognizing that prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, this tribunal will adhere to the traditional "hands off" approach to internal prison disciplinary policies and procedures when reviewing inmate appeals under the APA. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 382, 527 S.E.2d at 757; see also Pruitt v. State, 274 S.C. 565, 266 S.E.2d 779 (1980) (stating the traditional "hands off" approach of South Carolina courts regarding internal prison discipline and policy). However, notwithstanding this deferential standard of review, this tribunal must conduct meaningful review of the Department's actions to ensure that inmate grievances are addressed in a fair, reasonable, and efficient manner. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 383, 527 S.E.2d at 757.

Here, Appellant's claims must be dismissed as without merit. Appellant alleges that the Department is not applying his earned work credits to his sentence as required by law. This claim is based on a misunderstanding of Appellant's projected "max-out," or release, date. The projected max-out date is just that-a projection. It is a projected release date based upon the assumption that an inmate will earn and retain the maximum amount of sentence-related credits available to him. Therefore, as an inmate earns and retains sentence-related credits, his projected max-out date will not move forward because the date already presumes the earning of those credits. However, as an inmate loses or fails to earn sentence-related credits, his projected release date must be adjusted backward to account for this failure to earn and retain the maximum amount of credit available. Thus, even though an inmate's projected release date does not move forward as he earns and retains sentence-related credits, he is nonetheless earning the credits as required by law.

In the case at hand, while Appellant is entitled to earn work credits, he is required by statute to serve at least 85% of the actual term of imprisonment imposed upon him. (1) In setting Appellant's projected release date, the Department has, as described above, presumed that Appellant will earn those work credits and reduce his sentence to the 85% minimum. Accordingly, as Appellant does, in fact, earn the work credits available to him, his projected max-out date is not adjusted forward because it already takes those credits into account. (2) Appellant's claim that the Department is not applying his earned work credits to his sentence must, therefore, fail.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Department's denial of Appellant's grievance is AFFIRMED.



Administrative Law Judge

July 17, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

1. See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 24-13-150(A) and 24-13-230(B) (Supp. 2001) (specifying the minimum sentence requirements for "no parole" offenses and the application of work credits to those "no parole" sentences, respectively).

2. Likewise, Appellant's projected release date would only be moved backward if he lost or failed to earn sentence-related credits such that he could not reduce his sentence to the 85% minimum.

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