Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Utah parole board dishes out life sentences

Utah has a unique sentencing structure found nowhere else in the country. Judges and juries determine a defendant’s innocence or guilt and, if convicted, hand down an indeterminate sentence as set by lawmakers, reported The Salt Lake Tribune. An indeterminate sentence usually has a minimum, five years, to a maximum, life.

Once in prison it is the parole board that ultimately decides how much retribution to exact and whether redemption is possible.  In effect the parole board decides whether an offender will spend his or her life in prison.

The inmates receiving natural life sentences from the board — a small fraction of the prison population — tend to be murderers, rapists, pedophiles and repeat offenders.

It currently costs the state approximately $3.2 million a year just to house the 108 inmates who now have board-determined natural life sentences, an expense that will grow by at least $30,000 a year, the average annual cost for incarceration, for each additional inmate handed such a term — and possibly more, as these inmates face age-related illnesses before dying in prison, reported The Tribune.

The average age of inmates at the Utah State Prison with natural life sentences is 56. There are 62 inmates age 55 — the age at which an inmate is considered elderly — or older, with the oldest an 82-year-old sex offender. At least five inmates were in their 20s when the board revoked any chance of parole.

Anyone guilty of a first-degree felony — murder, rape, child kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, arson and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute near a school — could later be handed a natural life term by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole under Utah’s sentencing scheme.

According to The Tribune, the board has ordered natural life sentences for 25 of the 74 inmates currently imprisoned for aggravated murder; the rest will serve between 25 and 30 years before getting either an original or review hearing or being eligible for parole.

The board has ordered 23 of the 257 inmates convicted of murder to spend the rest of their lives in prison; most — 150 inmates — will serve nearly 21 years before they get an original hearing before the board, when it will determine how much longer they’ll serve for their crimes.

The board declined to set parole dates for another 41 people, who will serve an average of 25 years before getting a rehearing; 43 have parole or termination dates that will require them to serve close to 22 years before they are eligible for release.

In a letter to The Tribune, Shayne Todd, a natural life wrote, “The undisputed facts are the Utah Board of Pardons has been unlawfully acting as a sentencing board, rather than a board of pardons, particularly where it no longer accepts an inmate’s good or bad prison behavior in determining his [or] her release date eligibility.”

To read more: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54485777-78/board-prison-inmates-natural.html.csp

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