Legislature(1997 - 1998)
04/16/1997 01:10 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 1994. 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 custody. 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 crime. 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 Berkowitz. 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 victims. 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.