Legislature(1997 - 1998)
02/26/1997 01:40 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 $617,000. SENATOR MILLER moved to adopt CSSB 67(JUD) (version 0-LS0137\K) for discussion purposes. There being no objection, CSSB 67(JUD) was adopted. 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.