Legislature(1997 - 1998)

04/16/1997 01:10 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 CSSB 67(JUD) - TRUTH IN SENTENCING                                            
 [Contains discussion of SB 25.]                                               
 CHAIRMAN GREEN advised members they would next consider CSSB
 67(JUD), "An Act relating to the imposition of criminal sentences;            
 and amending Rule 32.2, Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure."                  
 Number 2231                                                                   
 BRETT HUBER, Legislative Assistant to Senator Rick Halford, Prime             
 Sponsor, advised members that Senator Halford introduced SB 67 to             
 provide victims of crime, their families and the general public an            
 honest and accurate assessment of the time which would actually be            
 served by a person convicted of a crime.  Mr. Huber noted that SB
 67 was consistent with the Victim's Rights Constitutional Amendment           
 that was passed by the legislature and ratified by popular vote in            
 MR. HUBER advised members that their bill packets included a                  
 sponsor statement, sectional analysis and various letters of                  
 support.  He pointed out that the bill was heard on Senate side in            
 the State Affairs, Judiciary and Finance committees, and passed the           
 full body by a vote of 20 to 0 on March 13, 1967                              
 MR. HUBER advised members the proposed legislation was fairly                 
 straight forward and he would provide a brief overview if the                 
 Chairman would like.                                                          
 Number 2283                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ gathered that the intent of the proposed             
 legislation was for the purpose of protecting victims to ensure               
 that they know when defendants were going to be released from state           
 MR. HUBER explained that the intent of the bill was to make sure              
 the public had a more accurate assessment of time actually served             
 when a sentence is handed down by the court.                                  
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked if one of the components was to know           
 when a defendant was going to be released.                                    
 MR. HUBER did not know if the bill expressly stated that.  He                 
 advised members that the intent was merely that when a sentence is            
 rendered by the court that the public, the victims and those                  
 affected would have an understanding of what the actual minimum               
 time required to serve would be under the imposed sentence.                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked what Mr. Huber's understanding was             
 of how sentences were currently rendered.                                     
 MR. HUBER felt that was a fairly broad question and asked if                  
 Representative Berkowitz could narrow it down some.                           
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ stated that it appeared that the whole               
 point of the bill was that judges were not saying enough in court,            
 and he was curious to know what the sponsor thought judges were               
 saying in court that would necessitate the proposed legislation.              
 MR. HUBER advised members that it was the Senator's understanding             
 that when a judge imposed a sentence that the length of time                  
 necessary to serve depended on whether there was a mandatory                  
 sentence for the crime committed, and other variables, but the                
 judge basically passed a sentence down of "X" amount of time.  He             
 noted that qualifiers were included, suspension of a portion of the           
 sentence, concurrent sentences, et cetera.  What was not being                
 disclosed, at the time of sentence, was what the minimum amount of            
 time would be when considering things such as mandatory or                    
 discretionary parole.  Mr. Huber advised members that was the                 
 intent of the proposed legislation, to make sure the minimum, or              
 actual amount of time that could possibly be served be a part of              
 the information relayed to the people in the courtroom at the time            
 of sentencing.                                                                
 CHAIRMAN GREEN noted that it was also imposed that an individual              
 could not be released prior to serving two thirds of his/her                  
 sentence, or greater than one third time paroled.                             
 MR. HUBER advised members that the bill did nothing to change how             
 current sentences were imposed, or existing mandatory or                      
 discretionary parole provisions.  It merely brought some sunshine             
 into the process of what those sentences would compute into when              
 considering mandatory and discretionary parole provisions.                    
 CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if, currently, people who had been convicted             
 of a crime would be required to serve at least two thirds of the              
 sentence handed down by the courts.                                           
 MR. HUBER stated that, currently, people convicted of a crime were            
 eligible to receive credit for good time, which was one third of              
 the imposed sentence.  He explained that discretionary parole                 
 provided the opportunity for criminals to be released prior to the            
 time of a mandatory parole, which could be substantially less than            
 the two thirds requirement.                                                   
 Number 2430                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES noted that she did not completely understand             
 mandatory and discretionary parole; however, she did understand               
 what the legislation was purporting to accomplish.  Representative            
 James advised members that her concern was if a judge imposed a               
 long sentence, but then after considering all the variables that              
 had to be relayed to the audience in the courtroom that the                   
 individual could be released within a much lesser time period than            
 the original sentence, would more than likely distress people a               
 lot.  Representative James assumed that was why the courts did not            
 provide all that information at the time of sentencing.                       
 MR. HUBER advised members that was exactly the situation the                  
 sponsor was attempting to address.  Senator Halford believed that             
 the public ought to know what the sentences that were being passed            
 down translated into under the current parole provisions.                     
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES believed there were cases when the state's               
 correctional facilities were full, and in order to accommodate that           
 problem, select individuals would be paroled early in order to free           
 up bed space.  She pointed out that she believed the department               
 provided early releases within the framework of what is, or what              
 was not allowed, although sometimes she felt that a much earlier              
 release could take place than anyone ever anticipated.                        
 TAPE 97-58, SIDE B                                                            
 Number 000                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ explained that once a defendant is                   
 sentenced, he/she is under the custody of the Department of                   
 Corrections and they have control over release by parole.  He                 
 advised members that a convicted person is required to serve two              
 thirds of his/her sentence, at which time the individual would be             
 eligible for good time; however, pointed out that good time could             
 be taken away by the department for various reasons.                          
 Representative Berkowitz stated with respect to a three year                  
 sentence, the person would be illegible for parole in two years,              
 but if the prisoner messed up in some manner, he/she would be                 
 required to serve the full imposed sentence of three years.                   
 MR. HUBER advised members it was his understanding that that                  
 computation was actually made by the Department of Corrections at             
 the time they receive the prisoner after the sentence had been                
 imposed.  He stated that good time was basically an automatic                 
 credit on account.  Mr. Huber noted that there was the opportunity            
 to remove the good time, if a person conducted some type of                   
 misbehavior while incarcerated.  Mr. Huber stated that the                    
 Department of Corrections also had the authority to reinstate the             
 person's good time after it had been removed.                                 
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER advised members it was his understanding that           
 it would be possible to compute and advise a victim at the time of            
 sentencing what the earliest release date could be, although it               
 would not necessarily be the exact time because of the department's           
 ability to take away good time earned because of behavior problems.           
 Number 77                                                                     
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG referred to the fiscal note in the amount             
 of $715,000, and asked what those funds would be expended towards.            
 He asked, because it was federal money, if it had been marked for             
 a specific use.                                                               
 MR. HUBER advised members it was federal money that was available             
 through Federal Truth in Sentencing construction funds for prison             
 facilities.  He noted that the current fiscal note, prepared by the           
 Senate Finance Committee, reflected a $650,000 possible capture of            
 federal funds.  Mr. Huber advised members that those federal funds            
 would require a 10 percent match, which would be $65,000 in general           
 funds, leaving $715,000 that would be available to the legislature            
 to appropriate towards the construction of correctional facilities,           
 if they so chose to accept and appropriate those funds.                       
 CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if that was a three year program.                        
 MR. HUBER advised members there were three years left in that                 
 program, and the estimate of $650,000 was the amount that the state           
 of Alaska would have qualified for had the provision and the                  
 language included in section 2 of the bill been in place.  He noted           
 that it was possible that that amount would be reduced from                   
 $650,000, over time, as other states qualify for those funds.                 
 Number 133                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG was pleased to see a positive fiscal note,            
 especially in the Department of Corrections, of which he was a                
 member of the budget subcommittee.  He asked if the court, upon               
 sentencing, had the duty to inform the victim of the defendant's              
 release date.                                                                 
 MR. HUBER advised members that as he understood the procedure, a              
 sentence was imposed both orally and within a sentencing report               
 that was a document of the courts and available to the victims;               
 however, he knew of no specific mandate for the court to supply               
 that information to the victims.                                              
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG pointed out that as the legislature expands           
 on the issue of victim's rights a problem had surfaced as to who              
 really was the victim.                                                        
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER saw nothing in the bill that would require              
 any specific notifications other than providing an explanation of             
 the sentence at the time the sentence was rendered and recorded.              
 Number 206                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked for clarification of the fiscal note and           
 the $650,000.                                                                 
 MR. HUBER advised members that the Department of Corrections had              
 prepared a fiscal note that did reflect the $65,000 match and                 
 expenditures, and showed a $715,000 capital expenditure.  He stated           
 that the problem that the Senate Finance Committee had was that it            
 was not yet determined by the legislature whether they should                 
 receive and expend those funds, so the Senate Finance Committee did           
 not feel comfortable with committing to that in the fiscal note.              
 Mr. Huber advised members that the analogy on page two of the                 
 fiscal note would explain that.                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked if what was being said was that the                
 state did not know where they would spend those funds, but knew               
 they would likely be received.                                                
 MR. HUBER advised members that there were guidelines as to where,             
 or how those funds could be spent, which was for the construction             
 or renovation of correctional facilities that would result in                 
 providing additional bed space.                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked if that would include any capital                  
 expenditure relative to a correctional facility.                              
 MR. HUBER noted that Margot Knuth, with the Department of Law,                
 could address those questions specifically.                                   
 Number 318                                                                    
 MARGOT KNUTH, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division,                  
 Department of Law, advised members there was a violent offender               
 incarceration and truth in sentencing incentive grant program that            
 the Department of Justice made available to states.  She explained            
 that the state of Alaska had not qualified for the truth in                   
 sentencing part of the grant program yet.  Ms. Knuth pointed out              
 that there had been a recent change made by the federal department            
 that would make it easier for states to qualify.  She advised                 
 members that previously, in order to qualify for truth in                     
 sentencing funds, the state would have had to increase the amount             
 of time that the state's prisoners serve from two thirds of the               
 sentence, to 85 percent.                                                      
 MS. KNUTH pointed out that truth in sentencing still required that            
 a prisoner serve 85 percent of their sentence, but the Department             
 of Justice had changed that to say that the 85 percent of the                 
 prison sentence was just the sentence of actual incarceration time            
 and the state would not have to include supervised release time,              
 which was what Alaska had with the mandatory parole system for                
 anyone with a sentence of over two years.  Ms. Knuth advised                  
 members that was termed the "Minnesota Exception"; the way of                 
 bifurcating a sentence in statute, but did not change how long                
 state prisoners would actually serve.                                         
 MS. KNUTH stated that the funds were to be used to reduce                     
 overcrowding or increase bed space which could be done in many                
 different ways.  She explained that existing facilities could be              
 renovated, and there was a provision that allowed sharing with                
 municipalities; the theory being that a municipality would do                 
 something with their misdemeanants that would free up some bed                
 space for the violent felons.  Ms. Knuth stated that those funds              
 could also be used for expansion planning purposes, but it had to             
 be a capital expenditure, not used for operating expenses.                    
 CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if it could be used in some manner for the               
 prisoners that had been sent outside Alaska.                                  
 MS. KNUTH advised members that there was a provision for using                
 privatized facilities.  The theory there, again, was that it would            
 free up some hard beds in Alaska for other offenders.                         
 CHAIRMAN GREEN believed the Arizona facility involved an operating            
 expense, rather than a capital expense.                                       
 MS. KNUTH agreed, and that was why the booklet containing all the             
 criteria was as thick as it was.  Ms. Knuth advised members that              
 based on the status of the proposed legislation that currently the            
 state could apply for those funds before the upcoming deadline                
 date, and the federal government would then look to see whether the           
 legislation was enacted and the state would be considered, at that            
 point, whether Alaska would qualify or not.  Ms. Knuth pointed out            
 that the question was how many more states were doing the same                
 thing as Alaska, simultaneously, for qualification of those funds.            
 She noted that there were only 17 states that qualified last year,            
 and as the number of states increase, the pot of money that was               
 being distributed would dissipate a little bit.                               
 MS. KNUTH pointed out that Alaska had just been approached by one             
 of the small states in the east who would like to work on creating            
 a floor, or a minimum amount that each state could get, which would           
 be of tremendous assistance to the state of Alaska.  She stated               
 that it would not cost the states like California and Florida that            
 much because they were getting so much money, but it could bring              
 Alaska into the $1 million to $2 million range.                               
 Number 538                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked if the intent of the federal                   
 matching funds was to provide more rights to the victims of a                 
 MS. KNUTH advised members the intent was to foster protection of              
 the public, and victims were some of the most interested persons in           
 the state's criminal justice system.                                          
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ pointed out there was other proposed                 
 legislation which dealt with the victim notification system, and he           
 felt that possibly added some teeth to SB 67.  The other                      
 legislation provided for notification of the victim when the                  
 prisoner was going to be released, and Representative Berkowitz               
 asked if the implementation of the victim notification system would           
 qualify as renovation under the federal scheme.                               
 MS. KNUTH did not believe the federal funds could be used in that             
 manner because it specifically requires those funds be applied                
 towards capital expenditures to increase bed space within the                 
 prison system.                                                                
 CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if Minnesota had the same type of system as              
 Alaska which included an automatic probation or release date.                 
 MS. KNUTH advised members that Minnesota did have the same type of            
 system and explained that at the conference, there was a panel of             
 three different ways that states with determinant sentencing could            
 qualify, and sitting right in the middle was Minnesota to assist              
 states like Alaska to realize that there had been a change and                
 could now qualify for those funds.  She stated that it was a part             
 of the executive branch's decision, on the federal level, that they           
 did not have an interest in coercing the state to increase the                
 length of time that Alaska prisoners stay incarcerated because that           
 was terribly expensive.  Ms. Knuth advised members that if the                
 state was required to go from 66 percent to 85 percent of sentences           
 for Alaska prisoners, that the price tag on that would never                  
 motivate the state to participate; however, she pointed out that              
 truth in sentencing, in itself, was a good goal because there were            
 misconceptions about how long a person would be incarcerated.                 
 Number 690                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT referred to the booklet Ms. Knuth had and                
 referred to page 7, it stated that in order to receive a grant the            
 state would have to certify by October 26, 1997, that the state had           
 adopted policies that provide for the rights and needs of crime               
 victims.  It went on to say that the state should provide notice to           
 victims concerning case and offender status.  Representative Croft            
 pointed out that the state would have to certify, by October, that            
 it was notifying victims of the status of their offender, of which            
 he assumed most importantly would be the release date.                        
 MS. KNUTH stated that was correct and was a statutory and                     
 constitutional obligation that the Executive now had, and the state           
 was fulfilling that obligation through paralegals and district                
 attorneys offices, as well as through the Department of Corrections           
 when a victim provides the information that they want to be                   
 notified of the offender's release date.                                      
 MS. KNUTH advised members that an automated victim notification               
 system would have the advantage because you could input the                   
 information and it then calls a phone number repeatedly for a                 
 period of several days until the right code is entered in to                  
 provide that information.  She said another part of that system               
 came with a 900 phone number that costs $1.80 for the first minute            
 and 95 cents a minute thereafter that would allow anyone to call              
 the number to find out if a particular person was incarcerated,               
 where at and what their release date was at that time, and that               
 could relieve the state of the burden of having to provide that               
 type of information.  Ms. Knuth expressed that the department was             
 receiving over 400 calls a day requesting information about who was           
 in custody, where they were incarcerated and when would they be               
 released.  Ms. Knuth stated if the department were to receive over            
 500 calls a day, the requestor would have to pay a fee for that               
 information, and that charge would be enough to cover the expense             
 of implementing an automated victim notification program.                     
 Number 830                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT wanted to make the argument that a capital               
 expenditure for equipment to notify victims could in some cases, be           
 a way to save bed space.  He pointed out that there had been a lot            
 of discussion about moving certain classes of offenders into                  
 halfway houses and saving money through that method.                          
 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT noted that there had been some controversy on            
 that issue because in halfway houses there was more of a potential            
 for the offender to walk away and commit a crime.  Representative             
 Croft stated that if an offender were released to a soft bed, which           
 would free up hard bed space, and the victim was notified of the              
 release date from a soft bed facility, that that would be a method            
 of reducing prison overcrowding.                                              
 MS. KNUTH felt there was merit to the argument presented by                   
 Representative Croft; however, the federal grant program specified            
 how those funds could be utilized and it would be necessary to use            
 those funds for construction purposes, either through remodeling              
 existing facilities, or building new facilities.  She added that              
 she would be glad to look further into the suggestion made by                 
 Representative Croft.                                                         
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER moved to report CSSB 67(JUD) out of committee           
 with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note.                     
 Representative Berkowitz objected for the purpose of discussion.              
 Number 962                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ expressed that the bill, in its present              
 form, did not provide for much more than what already happened in             
 court, and he felt that if the state was intent on providing                  
 victims protection and provide notification of an offender's                  
 release date that there was a vehicle for that purpose.  He noted             
 that SB 25 was the victim notification bill and he might offer an             
 amendment to CSSB 67(JUD) that would shoehorn in SB 25 where                  
 appropriate.  Representative Berkowitz pointed out that both bills            
 addressed the same topic and consistent with the intent and it                
 would be at zero cost to the state.                                           
 CHAIRMAN GREEN advised members that his concern was that the                  
 amendment appeared to be substantial and members had not had a                
 chance to review its effect.  He noted that the committee had a               
 standing rule that required advanced notice of proposed amendments            
 in a timely fashion.  Chairman Green pointed out that there was a             
 motion on the floor and was not sure Representative Berkowitz                 
 proposal fit under the motion before the committee.  Chairman Green           
 stated that Representative Porter could withdraw his motion for the           
 purpose of discussing the idea put forth by Representative                    
 Number 1086                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG stated that Ms. Knuth had expressed that              
 the state already had a statutory and constitutional requirement to           
 notify victims presently, and asked if the change would be the                
 automated program discussed earlier.                                          
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ stated that as he understood the                     
 notification process that the Department of Law had a difficult               
 time in locating people and that it was very time intensive                   
 process.  He advised members that the automated system would                  
 eliminate all the wasted labor that was being taken away from                 
 ongoing cases.  Representative Berkowitz explained that it would              
 free up personnel in the Department of Law to pursue current/active           
 cases, and there would be a greater likelihood of contacting                  
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER declared a point of order.  He pointed out              
 that what was being discussed was a bill in another committee.                
 Representative Porter explained that he had discussed, with the               
 maker of the amendment very briefly, the notion that that might               
 qualify; however, he felt it would be more appropriately formed               
 into an amendment, after researching the federal guidelines to see            
 if it would even qualify, which could occur in the House Finance              
 Committee, the next committee of referral.                                    
 CHAIRMAN GREEN agreed with those comments because it was addressing           
 a finance issue.                                                              
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG called for the question.                              
 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ withdrew his objection.  There being no              
 objection, CSSB 67(JUD) was reported out of committee.                        

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