ATLANTA -- Eighteen state prison inmates have been paroled after it was discovered that their files and those of dozens of others languished in the office of a Board of Pardons and Paroles official - in some cases for years.
Seven of the other 41 prisoners served their entire sentences while waiting to hear if they would be released early, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Saturday.
The files were discovered on a cart in the office of clemency director Michael Sullivan in February, the newspaper said. Sullivan was demoted and his $103,000 salary was cut by $23,000 after the discovery, according to the report.
Parole board chairman Milton E. "Buddy" Nix Jr. said the lapse was unacceptable.
"I cannot even describe to you how distressed and just downright mad I was because I know these cases represent human beings," Nix told the Journal-Constitution.
Sullivan did not return a telephone call to his office seeking comment.
The cases of all 59 inmates now have been reviewed. Seven of the convicts were denied parole. Twenty-seven are still being considered.
The parole board considers 20,000 cases a year.
Nix discovered the problem Feb. 3 while reviewing an inmate's file. The prisoner's tentative parole month - a date the board sets for the inmate's potential release - already had passed.
Nix asked Beth Oxford, director of parole, to find out why there had been a delay.
Oxford checked with Sullivan and removed about 100 files from his office. She determined that 59 of the cases were "late, pending follow-up action or otherwise questionable," according to a summary provided to board officials.
Parole officials found that the tentative parole dates for 26 inmates had passed while the files were in Sullivan's office. The other 33 files required board action before they could move forward.
Almost all of the files had been flagged for a variety of reasons. In some cases, judges, prosecutors or victims' families had opposed early release.
Nevertheless, the concerns should have been addressed and the filed placed before the parole board for consideration, board member Mike Light said.
Among the files was that of Timothy Alan Rustin, serving a 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter. He was scheduled for early release in December 2002. A question that arose about the release never was resolved.
After the file was found, the board voted to parole him.
Rustin said he asked his counselors about his parole "but they kept saying I was under investigation."
"I just figured they were making everybody do all their time, and I figured they were making me do mine," Rustin said.