Bill would reduce amount of sentence needed to be served for release of violent offenders

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Lawmakers are considering a bill that would reduce the time an inmate must serve to be eligible for release.

House Bill 1104 would cut off 20 percent of the time inmates have to serve before release consideration, and add a host of violent crimes to those eligible.

“This bill involves a lot of very serious offenses: murder, manslaughter, rape, those types of offenses that the public takes very seriously,” Stephanie Dassinger said. She represents the North Dakota Chiefs of Police Association.

She says some crimes are already receiving lighter sentences and parole revocations are happening less often — which, together, the Association believes emboldens repeat offenders.

“The chiefs are concerned about those individuals being released from prison more quickly than they already are,” Dassinger said.

Parole Board Clerk Steven Hall says the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation supports the bill because it would encourage good behavior.

“By providing that release opportunity, that carrot out there, that can impact how their behavior is within the institution, what programs they want to participate in because they want to put their best image to the parole board,” Hall said.

The bill would also apply retroactively to offenses occurring after July 31,1995.

Hall says, if it became law, 56 people would be considered for release within the next two years. Grand Forks Democratic Representative Zac Ista was one of a handful of lawmakers who introduced the bill.

“Even 100% of a sentence will not bring a true sense of justice, but I do think this bill allows the DOCR to apply its expertise in determining whether somebody who’s been serving a long sentence has demonstrated evidence of rehabilitation,” Ista said.

He says he’d be open to changing the percent from 65 to 75 or another number but what’s important is the reduction.

The bill was moved to subcommittee consideration after discussion that the retroactive application of the bill violates the constitution’s ex post facto clause. Committee Chairman Lawrence Klemin said that the committee will report back next week on an amended version of the bill.

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