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Truth in sentencing bill should be passed

Editorial Board • Updated Mar 20, 2018 at 2:54 PM

Tennessee Rep. Bud Hulsey’s truth in sentencing bill merited passage on principle, regardless of cost. Now that he has modified it to reduce its cost from $112 million to $37 million, lawmakers should get on board.

It is unconscionable that violent felons are released from prison in Tennessee before even minimum sentences rendered by judges and juries are fully served.

Hulsey’s original bill would have prohibited any inmate from using sentencing credits until the inmate has served the minimum sentence. It was estimated that keeping inmates locked up at least through their minimum sentences would cost $112 million.

The bill now has a $37 million fiscal impact because Hulsey has amended it to only include violent felons. Violent offenders have a recidivism rate of 67 percent, and the longer we can keep them locked up, the safer we are.

Says Hulsey, “You have folks in your district who have killed and raped and murdered and slaughtered” who get a 20-year sentence, but only serve a fraction of it because they are let out early for behaving themselves in prison, something they should be made to do, not rewarded for.

Hulsey filed the bill after James Hamm, convicted in the 2014 drunken hit-and-run that killed Kingsport businessman and Hulsey’s friend Mike Locke, was denied parole last year. In May 2016, Hamm received a 14-year prison sentence, but his parole eligibility came up after he used sentencing credits for good behavior. The Tennessee Department of Correction says more than a third of the more than 15,100 inmates released each year over the last five years received sentencing credits.

“(Violent felons) ... I don’t think they should be in that category to start with,” Hulsey pointed out. “We need a whole new overhaul on truth in sentencing so people know exactly how much time they are going to get and when they get out. Until I get there, I’m going to work with what I’ve got and what I’m doing right now.”

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus, in a recent meeting with members of the Times News Editorial Board, supported Hulsey’s original bill. “The Hamm case … he served two and a half years. He was up for parole and was denied, but the (Locke) family had to come and relive it,” Staubus noted.

“I went to the parole hearing. That’s my job, but we’re using resources we shouldn’t have to. His family had to be there, his friends had to be there, we had to oppose it. They had to get stressed out, but said they would come back in two years. There’s no closure,” Staubus said.

Letting inmates who have committed violent crimes out before even their minimum sentence has been served is another offense against victims. The legislature should pass this bill.

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