The Saline Courier Weekend

‘Truth in Sentencing’ bill seeks to reform sentencing, parole


There are many stages in the process of convicting criminals and sentencing them to prison. Senate Bill 2, the “Truth in Sentencing and Parole Reform Act of 2023,” will change many of them.

Currently SB 2 is a shell bill, which means it consists only of the title. That’s because the co-sponsors are still gathering ideas from people in the many areas of law enforcemen­t that will be affected.

Stakeholde­rs include county sheriffs and police department­s, prosecutor­s, judges, wardens, prison security officers, parole and probation officers, transition programs, victims’ rights advocates, defense attorneys, drug courts, specialty courts, drug treatment programs and alcohol abuse programs.

The reforms will cost money, so SB 2 will have a ripple effect on the other spending categories in state government.

Last year many elected officials listed stronger law enforcemen­t as one of their campaign issues.

In an interview, the Senate sponsor said that a major focus of the bill would be to protect people from repeat violent offenders who are released from prison on parole, sometimes after serving as little as a sixth of their sentence.

Under SB 2 inmates would have to earn their parole eligibilit­y through good behavior; it would not be guaranteed merely by serving a portion of their sentence.

The bill would create incentives for inmates to complete rehabilita­tion programs.

One challenge the sponsors must address is that about 1,700 inmates are being held in county jails in an average month while they wait for available space to open in a state prison unit.

County jails don’t have the funds or resources for the programs that state prisons can offer, such as treatment for drug abuse and job training. Thus, while inmates are serving time in in a county jail they are not preparing for a productive life after their release. The measure will lengthen sentences and tighten parole provisions because violent offenders are getting out too soon, the sponsor said.

Some inmates don’t participat­e in job training and drug rehab programs. A strong incentive to participat­e would be to make it a requiremen­t in order to become eligible for parole.

The legislatur­e will consider proposals to add prison space. The question is how many more beds to build, and how many of the new beds will be for violent and dangerous offenders.

At the end of 2022 the Department of Correction had more than 17,000 inmates in its jurisdicti­on.

That is an increase of about 3,000 more inmates since 10 years ago, and an increase of about 5,000 inmates since 20 years ago.

In fiscal year 2010 the legislatur­e appropriat­ed $338 million from the state’s general revenue fund to the Correction Department for operating state prisons.

Last fiscal year the appropriat­ion was $494 million.

The Senate co-sponsor of SB 2 said that garnering a consensus in support of the bill would depend on its total cost. It probably will be a couple of weeks before the details are finalized.

When that happens, the bill will be amended. It will no longer be a shell bill with just a title, but will be “a fairly large piece of legislatio­n.”

...A major foucs of the bill would be to protect people from repeat violent offenders.”

ALAN CLARK State Senator


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