SC bill would make more inmates ineligible for parole

astice@islandpacket.comApril 29, 2013 

A bill in the S.C. Senate would remove uncertainty about how long some inmates will be in prison by expanding the list of offenses ineligible for parole.

State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, is a former solicitor who said current sentencing rules are a “high-stakes guessing game.”

Because of parole and credits earned for good behavior, education or work, many convicts become eligible for release long before they have served the time ordered by a judge.

Hembree, the bill’s sponsor, said the current system is unfair to victims and defendants, and the bill would make the process clearer for everyone.

“Fundamentally, it is the most important step we can take to re-establish some credibility in our criminal justice system,” Hembree said. “When you get a sentence, this is what it is.”

The bill, currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would define all crimes that carry a sentence of more than a year as “no parole” offenses. Inmates could still earn credits for good behavior, but those could only reduce time served on a sentence to 85 percent, Hembree said.

As a result of sentencing reform over the years, some sentences already require prison time. Those sentenced to life or convicted of murder are not eligible for early release. Those convicted of certain violent crimes, such as armed robbery, must serve 85 percent of their sentences before they are eligible for parole.

Many inmates are eligible for parole after serving only a quarter of their sentences, and data from the S.C. Department of Corrections state that the average inmate serves 56 percent of the time ordered by a judge.

Parole still would be an option for current inmates. As those cases cycle out, Hembree said, a secondary goal of the bill is to abolish parole boards.

Department of Corrections director Bill Byars declined to comment, saying through a spokesman that he wanted to study the bill further.

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