The bill, which would prohibit an inmate from using sentencing credits until the inmate has served the minimum sentence, now has a $37 million fiscal impact instead of more than $112 million in incarceration expenses.
Hulsey, R-Kingsport, amended the bill to include only violent felons, and it has passed on a voice vote by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
“What that means to me is you have folks in your district who have killed and raped and murdered and slaughtered … to make a family and you’ve told them they have a 20-year sentence … and they’ve got it in their head how long this guy is supposed to be in jail, then all of a sudden in a year or more, they get a notice they are going to have to appear in a parole hearing to defend why this guy should stay in prison and put the families in trauma all over again,” Hulsey told the subcommittee. “We’ve got to deal with this. … It needs a whole overhaul. I’m probably going to have to drop this bill or take it off notice.”
Hulsey had 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.
State Rep. William Lamberth, a member of the subcommittee, insisted the state isn’t being fair to victims, defendants or prosecutors.
“This is a good bill,” Lamberth, R-Cottontown, told Hulsey. “I understand it is ridiculously expensive, but I appreciate your courage in bringing the bill because we’ve got to have a serious conversation about these sentences. It is a lie what is on the books right now.”
State Rep. Sherry Jones stressed the state needs to decide whether to punish or rehabilitate inmates.
“If somebody shot or killed somebody in my family, I would be devastated,” Jones, D-Nashville, told the subcommittee. “I may want them to be in prison the rest of their lives and then some. On the other hand, what kind of society are we that we don’t want to take bad people and try to make them as good as they can be so they can be productive citizens and not do these sort of things?”
Hulsey said he understands the Department of Correction’s focus is to create an incentive for people to get out of prison.
“Crimes against persons who are violent, 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, said he 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, they denied it, and they said they would come back in two years.
“There’s no closure.”
For more, go to www.capitol.tn.gov. The bill’s number is HB 1514.