Legislature(1997 - 1998)

02/26/1997 01:40 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                  SB  67 TRUTH IN SENTENCING                                  
  VICE-CHAIR   PEARCE  called the meeting back to order at 2:57 p.m. an        
 announced SB 67 was next on the agenda.                                       
  SENATOR RICK HALFORD , sponsor of SB 67, explained the proposed              
 committee substitute, which he supports, includes an amendment by             
 the Court System to clarify that the bill is asking judges to                 
 determine approximate dates of release that cannot be used against            
 the Court System regarding accuracy, and a new Section 1 which may            
 provide for the capture of federal funds.  SB 67 requires, at the             
 time a judge imposes a sentence, he/she estimate how much time will           
 actually be served.  That hearing is when the victims and/or family           
 are most likely to be present.                                                
 Number 396                                                                    
  SENATOR PARNELL  asked about Section 1.   SENATOR HALFORD  repeated          
 that section pertains to the capture of federal funds in regard to            
 how Alaska sets sentences.                                                    
  VICE-CHAIR PEARCE  asked about the new fiscal note.   SENATOR HALFORD        
 replied CSSB 67(JUD) has a positive fiscal impact of about                    
  SENATOR MILLER  moved to adopt CSSB 67(JUD) (version 0-LS0137\K) for         
 discussion purposes.  There being no objection, CSSB 67(JUD) was              
  PAUL SWEET , testifying via teleconference from Mat-Su, asked                
 whether appeals will affect this bill.   VICE-CHAIR PEARCE  responded         
 at the time of sentencing, the judge does not know whether an                 
 appeal will occur.  Although everyone is aware of problems with               
 abusing the appeal system, SB 67 does not address that issue.                 
  MARGOT KNUTH , representing the Department of Corrections, informed          
 committee members several years ago the federal government                    
 instituted a truth in sentencing intensive grant program which                
 makes funds available to states for prison construction and                   
 expansion.  The program has two components:  truth in sentencing;             
 and a requirement that states actually impose at least 85 percent             
 of the period of incarceration.  Alaska has not been able to                  
 qualify for those funds because it has a mandatory good-time                  
 provision that allows up to one-third of the sentence to be served            
 on supervised release for felons, or any case with a sentence                 
 longer than two years.  If the sentence is less than two years,               
 mandatory good-time means early release for the prisoner.  Good-              
 time can be lost for disciplinary infractions within the                      
 institution.  The federal government has recently decided that                
 requiring states to keep prisoners incarcerated for a full 85                 
 percent of their sentences is hardly affordable for most states.              
 Consequently, it has recognized several different exceptions to the           
 85 percent requirement.  One, the Minnesota exception, provides               
 that the sentence be defined to exclude any statutorily required              
 supervised release periods.  For Alaska's violent offenders, that             
 would amount to the "good time" because they are spending more than           
 two years incarcerated and are not being released on discretionary            
 parole.  Alaska might now be able to meet that requirement, but               
 needs a language change to bifurcate the sentence, which is what              
 Section 1 does.  If Alaska is able to qualify for truth in                    
 sentencing funds, they will amount to $617,000 for FY 98, and about           
 $500,000 for the following four years.                                        
  CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  noted several years ago the Legislature was                 
 attempting to accomplish a similar goal.  His concern at that time            
 was the early release of violent prisoners, by the Parole Board,              
 with no notification to witnesses or others who might be                      
 threatened, including the judge who imposed the sentence.  He felt            
 the appropriate solution was to require the sentencing judge's                
 consent to an early release.   MS. KNUTH  agreed notification of              
 victims and the court is entirely appropriate and added Senator               
 Ellis has introduced a bill to create an automated victim                     
 notification system.   CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  noted previous legislation he         
 sponsored would make the person(s) responsible for early release              
 liable to the victim if a reoffense occurred.                                 
 TAPE 97-14, SIDE A                                                            
 Number 000                                                                    
  DEL SMITH , Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety,          
 testified in strong support of SB 67.  He and Commissioner Otte are           
 concerned about the public's misperceptions of actual time served             
 by prisoners, and the effect early release can have on the victims,           
 witnesses, defendants and the public.                                         
  SENATOR PEARCE  asked whether a jury is told how much time will              
 actually be served when deliberating.   CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  replied they         
 are not informed, because it is believed it might prejudice them              
 against the prosecution.  He explained there are states where one             
 can choose who will impose the sentence; the jury or judge, but the           
 judge has the right to overrule the jury.                                     
  CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  asked why existing sentences cannot be structured           
 by shifting the numbers so that one-third became three-quarters to            
 bring us into federal compliance.   MS. KNUTH  agreed that there are          
 several ways to accomplish the same thing that would do the least             
 "tweaking" to our system.                                                     
  CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  asked what is wrong with a system that sentences a          
 person for 15 years and tacks on additional years for acting out.             
 He noted we assume and reward good conduct up front while most                
 other penal institutions put a person in prison assuming good                 
 conduct and then punish them for misconduct.   MS. KNUTH  replied the         
 difference in a bad-time state is the presumption that prisoners              
 have to earn time off.  Most states in the union are good-time                
 states but the truth in sentencing program has caused some states             
 to change to bad-time policies.                                               
  CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  questioned why prisoners, using public defender             
 services to appeal a criminal case, are given credit for prison               
 time served while the appeal is pending.  If they weren't, they               
 would have something invested in the appeal.   MS. KNUTH  said that           
 was an interesting proposal.   CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  commented the appeal          
 turnaround time in some other countries is three months, while it             
 is two and one-half to three years here.                                      
 Number 55                                                                     
  SENATOR PEARCE  moved to pass CSSB 67(Jud) from committee with               
 individual recommendations and the appropriate fiscal notes.  There           
 were no objections and it was so ordered.                                     

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