Prison inmate loses appeal on classification status

The Arkansas Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of an Arkansas prison inmate who had contended that prison officials refused to restore his inmate classification and he was denied entrance into a prison hobby-craft program.

Ronnie Lee Smith, 44, who is serving his sentence at the Varner Unit, had filed suit against Larry May, deputy director of the Department of Correction, Lt. Gary Musselwhite and a third person identified in the lawsuit only as Officer Patterson, who was listed as a classification officer.

According to the court ruling, Smith had filed a complaint in Jefferson County Circuit Court seeking damages after correctional officials refused to restore his Class I-B status, which would have allowed him to receive furloughs and to participate in the hobby-craft program.

In the complaint, Smith said he was awarded Class I-B status while serving at the Jefferson County Jail in 2007 and lost that status when he was transferred to the Varner Unit in 2008. He regained that status but lost it again in 2010.

Attorneys for the Department of Correction filed a motion to dismiss, contending that Smith’s lawsuit failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted and the complaint was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis dismissed the complaint on Sept. 23, 2011, and Smith appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

The unsigned ruling from the high court said the legal filing by Smith did not set out any specific allegations of a mistake in the ruling by Dennis nor did it cite any legal authority.

In addition, the high court said the prisoner classification system is left up to the discretion of prison officials and any inmate does not have a protected right to any particular classification, nor do they have the protected right to other privileges such as the prison hobby-craft program.

Smith was convicted on drug charges in Benton County and was sentenced to a total of 20 years in prison. He will be eligible to apply for parole in August 2015.