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Soft(headed) on Crime?

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The latest episode of that wild and wacky state political show "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" took place in the House Judiciary II Committee at the General Assembly today. The special guest star was Representative (and former House Minority Leader) "Sheriff" Joe Kiser of Lincoln County. The subject was House Bill 805, an eminently reasonable proposal that had been advanced — after long and thorough study — by the state Sentencing Commission.

The thrust of the bill was to offer some very modest tweaks to the state's so-called "structured sentencing" law. That law was adopted nearly a decade and a half ago to replace the obsolete system under which the sentences of persons convicted of crimes were subject to the vagaries of parole. The structured sentencing law provides much more certainty about sentences and removes a lot of judicial discretion. That's all fine. But of course, structured sentencing ain't perfect and circumstances do evolve.

HB 805 is an attempt to acknowledge and respond to that imperfection and evolution. Under current law, sentences are imposed within a range spelled out by law. Judges determine individual sentences within that range based upon things like prior record and aggravating and mitigating factors. Under the terms of HB 805, punishments for certain classes of felonies would be adjusted so that the range is three months less on the low end and three months higher on the top end. The bill would also increase the period of post-release supervision for all affected by the bill from nine months to 12. Bottom line: our sentencing system would get smarter and more precise and focus on preventing recidivism throughout the first full year after release (the period of highest risk). We would also be likely to reduce the rate of growth in prisons and save as much as $80 million per year (roughly 335 beds) within five years of implementation. Even the lock 'em up folks at the state D.A.'s Association are not opposed.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Not so fast comrade. According to Sheriff Joe, this bill is just a "soft on crime" proposal that "gives three months parole" to a bunch of criminals. Kiser even went so far as to help run out the time of the committee meeting so that no vote could be taken this morning. Apparently, Kiser thinks they'll be a number of ruthless criminals out there who'll be chomping at the bit to wreak havoc once they figure out that they might face 81 months in the slammer rather than 84 months for certain crimes.

Fortunately for the cause of sanity, the Committee will meet again on Thursday. Let's hope the committee acts with dispatch and then moves on to the rest of the Sentencing Commission's agenda. 

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