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March 8, 2007

Budgeting for (or as) sentencing reform

This interesting news report from Wisconsin shows how a budget plan can be the impetus for a certain kind of back-end sentencing reform:

More prison inmates could be eligible for early release under the state's "truth in sentencing" law, which was intended to make criminals serve their entire sentence behind bars, if lawmakers approve Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed budget. The document includes a provision that would allow the state Parole Commission to review inmates' petitions for early release under the decade-old sentencing law....

Truth in sentencing went into effect in late 1999 in an effort to abolish parole and early release and give crime victims more certainty that criminals would serve their entire sentences behind bars. But an amendment approved in 2002 allows inmates to petition trial judges in their cases for early release from prison. Corrections officials say only a fraction of all inmates file such petitions.  The law allows for inmates convicted of less serious felonies like property crimes and drug offenses to petition for early release after serving at least 75 percent of their prison sentence, and for inmates convicted of more serious, usually violent, crimes to seek early release after serving at least 85 percent of their sentence.

Doyle's budget provision would apply only to those sentenced for less serious felonies.  Corrections Secretary Matt Frank said the proposal is intended to streamline the early release process. He acknowledged that if lawmakers approve the change, "there could be more petitions granted because the current mechanism with the judges is not a very efficient process.  With the commission, there could be more (approvals), but that would have to be decided by the commission." 

The department's budget anticipates that more inmates will be released and that the state would save at least $464,900 beginning in 2008, when the proposed changes would take effect.

Doyle's budget also includes other changes to truth in sentencing, which prison officials said has driven up costs by increasing the time inmates spend in prison. The budget would extend the life of the state Sentencing Commission, which was set to expire later this year.  The commission would develop guidelines for judges to use in sentencing criminals and report back to lawmakers by 2008.

March 8, 2007 at 06:55 AM | Permalink


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