In Wisconsin, 417 days of false imprisonment is worth $7,600


By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — A year of liberty in Wisconsin is worth less than many of the nightly giveaways handed out to contestants on the Wheel of Fortune.

That’s according to a state Claims Board decision to award former inmate Robin Gavinski $7,600 for the 417 days he wrongly sat in prison due to a math error by the Department of Corrections.

Robin Gavinski wrongly spent 417 days in prison due to a calculation error by the Department of Corrections. Now the state is repaying Gavinski with $7,600.

“They made a decision on that?” Gavinski asked when contacted by Wisconsin Reporter, who broke the news to him. “I really don’t think that’s fair at all. I don’t see the fairness one bit.”

Gavinski was convicted for burglary and spent eight years and four months in prison — about a year and two months longer than he should have spent behind bars.

“My life could have been entirely different,” he said. “It’s a combination of a lot of things that could be different. I was messed up psychologically when I found out about (Corrections’ error). Psychologically, physically, I had to regroup.”

Gavinski said he is moving on with his life. He works a full-time job and advertises for handyman work on the side. Still, he will never get that year of his life back.

“You know, it cost them damn near $60,000 to $70,000 to house me for 417 days,” he said. “I wasn’t asking a lot. If they would have said $30,000, that’s reasonable. But $7,600, that’s nothing.”

The Department of Corrections literally calculates prison sentencing and release dates with a pencil and piece of paper. That antiquated method led to this error, along with other cases in litigation.

“The current system is like it’s from the early 1900s,” said Tim Kiefer, Gavinski’s attorney. “One of the things we said is Robin would like to be an impetus for an upgraded DOC system. They could easily put the information into a computer program rather than do it by hand. It would be much more accurate.”

The Claims Board recommended the DOC upgrade its system for calculating sentences and release dates. Still, that doesn’t do anything for Gavinski. Wisconsin Reporter’s phone calls to the Department of Corrections and the state Claims Board were not immediately returned.

DOC had asked the Claims Board to deny Gavinski’s claim and that the onus was on Gavinski to spot the sentencing error, but the claims board didn’t buy it.

“I can’t change their decision, and that was my last avenue to go down,” Gavinski said. “I just need to move on with my life (and) $7,600 isn’t going to change it much. Even $25,000 or $30,000 wasn’t going to. But when I tell the story they just gave me $7,600 — a lot of people are going to be like, ‘wow did they screw you.’”

Contact Ryan Ekvall at, at 608-257-1382 or follow him on Twitter @Nockian.