Pubdate: Mon, 07 Jan 2008
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2008 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Andrew Wolfe, Telegraph Staff


CONCORD - State prisoners could earn earlier release  under a bill
passed last week in the House of  Representatives and another bill up
for consideration  this week.

The bills don't change sentencing rules nearly as  dramatically as the
original authors intended, however,  and both bills must also clear
the Senate and Gov. John  Lynch before becoming law.

The original version of House Bill 595 would have  replaced the
practice of adding "disciplinary time" for  misbehavior with a system
rewarding inmates with time  off for good behavior, up to 12-1/2 days
for every  month served.

Such "good time" proposals come up every so often, and  state
Corrections Commission William Wrenn said  Thursday he's dead-set
against the idea. Judges should  handle any changes to the sentences
they impose, he  said, and that's what the new amended bill does, he

The text of the new bill is not available on the  Legislature's Web
site, nor did Wrenn's office have a  copy. The bill passed the House
on Wednesday by voice  vote, house staff said.The new bill requires
the  Department of Corrections to restore a review board  (abolished
in the earlier part of this decade) to  consider inmate requests for
sentence reductions, Wrenn  said.

Under current state law, inmates can petition the court  for sentence
reduction after serving four years, or  two-thirds of their minimum
sentence. The new law will  allow inmates to petition the commissioner
at any time  for permission to petition the court sooner, he said.
Still, any reduction will be up to the court, with  input from
prosecutors and victims, he said. The  commissioner's review board
will simply recommend  whether to consider an inmate's petition.

Inmates will have to earn favorable recommendations,  according to
Jeff Lyons, Department of Corrections  spokesman.

"Essentially it's going to be an incentive for the  inmates to take
required treatment programs," such as  programs to help with drug
abuse, he said.

"They would have to show us some indication that they  are willing to
improve themselves and be  rehabilitated," Lyons said. "We're not just
going to  let someone get early release for X number of days just  for
being here and staying out of trouble."

The House also passed a bill clarifying how consecutive  and
concurrent sentences should be calculated, in a way  that could
effectively reduce some inmate's sentences.  That bill also was
amended, however, so there's no  telling what it actually accomplishes
until a revised  version is circulated.

Both bills passed by voice vote, so no tally was taken,  and both will
now be kicked over to the Senate for  consideration.

Later this week, the House is scheduled to consider  another bill
(House Bill 1159) which, as written, would  give the Department of
Corrections authority to free  some nonviolent inmates (sexual
offenders also would be  ineligible) on "early conditional release."

Wrenn said he has yet to review the proposal or take  any position on
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek