- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - An advocacy law firm is suing the state of Alaska on behalf of a Palmer inmate over an alleged discriminatory treatment in the parole process for those found guilty but mentally ill.

Most prisoners in the state are up for parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence if enough time is credited for good behavior, according to the lawsuit filed Friday by the Northern Justice Project for 59-year-old Kenneth Pruitt. There is no such process when then the Alaska Department of Corrections for mentally ill offenders, who are released only after hearings are held to determine their “dangerousness,” the lawsuit states.

“DOC’s parole system illegally discriminates against individuals with mental illness,” it says. “DOC has a policy and practice, at the time of mandatory parole eligibility, of allowing the release of prisoners without mental illnesses without any scrutiny of their dangerousness.”

The treatment is discriminatory and amounts to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act, according to the lawsuit, which also alleges violations of the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection and due process clause. Pruitt’s attorneys also are seeking his immediate release from prison and a declaration invalidating a state law to the degree it restricts mandatory parole for mentally ill prisoners.

Northern Justice attorney Meg Zaletel said there would be no further comment for the time being beyond what is outlined in the lawsuit. She also declined to discuss specifics about her client.

Alaska Department of Law officials also declined to comment Friday, saying the state has not yet been served with the complaint.

“We will review the complaint once it is received and evaluate the merits of the claim and our response,” agency spokeswoman Cori Mills said in an email.

Pruitt, who is serving his time at the Palmer Correctional Center, was found guilty but mentally ill in 1992 for attempted murder and other charges. The lawsuit says he would have been eligible for mandatory parole on a 25-year sentence in September 2014 if not for the Alaska Department of Correction’s position on mentally ill offenders.

Instead, according to the lawsuit, the Corrections Department offered to hold a hearing in late 2015 for Pruitt to determine if he was still dangerous.

“Mr. Pruitt declined to participate in the hearing because he is entitled to parole release without any hearing and because the lack of any clear procedure for such a hearing exposes him to arbitrary and unreasonable treatment,” the lawsuit says.


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