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Henry McMaster: Sensible sentencing

January 2, 2009

Lawmakers should approve attorney general’s plan next year

Lawmakers rejected a plan last year that would restore more sense to the criminal justice system by sending violent criminals to prison for longer terms while punishing nonviolent offenders outside the prison system.

SCGOP 2010 Gubenatorial Hopeful?

SCGOP 2010 Gubenatorial Hopeful?

They will have a chance to reconsider that idea this year. Attorney General Henry McMaster is pushing the plan again, and legislation implementing it has been pre-filed for the legislative session that begins next month.

McMaster’s proposals make a great deal of sense for the state budget, for its economy and for the state’s families.

The attorney general is proposing to do away with parole so that violent offenders spend more time behind bars and victims of violent crimes will know how long their attackers will be behind bars when they are sentenced.

It is unreasonable for victims to have to relive their ordeals each year when they have to appear before a parole board and argue against the release of their offender. Abolishing parole would relieve them of this burden.

But McMaster is also trying to limit the number of people who are sent to prison. He wants to establish a “middle court” system for nonviolent offenders. This system would be modeled on the successful drug courts. It would use intensive probation, restitution, drug and alcohol treatment and house arrest. Such a system would relieve an overcrowded and under funded prison system. It would cost the state to fund the middle court system, but in the long run, it should save money by reducing the prison population.

Money is not all that would be saved. When a nonviolent offender is sentenced to prison, he loses his job and much of his ability to regain employment once he is released from prison. His family loses his income and his presence.

Allowing nonviolent offenders to make restitution and maintain employment while under intense probation supervision will hold families together and ameliorate the tremendous social costs of incarceration.

Together these proposals would save the state significant social and economic costs. They would reserve prison space for those who genuinely should be removed from society, and they would keep them there longer.

The danger is that a General Assembly that loves to appear tough on crime will abolish parole without establishing the middle court system. That would be a disaster that would heap more inmates on an already overtaxed prison system. Lawmakers have an abysmal record of inadequately funding the Department of Corrections and probably wouldn’t allocate enough money to take care of the extra inmates.

Lawmakers should realize the benefits of McMaster’s entire plan and adopt it.

Henry McMaster
henry@henrymcmaster.com

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