Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee Examines Sentencing

Determinate vs. indeterminate sentencing isn't a topic that comes up in everyday conversation - until a convict's jail term or release boils over into a public controversy.

The state's sentencing system was examined last week during a Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on possible changes, the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We'll be looking at some changes," said Republican Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, the committee chairman, who represents parts of Bucks and Montgomery Counties. "Whether we have support for determinate sentencing, I'm not so sure. We'll have to look."

A determinate sentence, sometimes called a flat sentence, carries a specific jail term - say 10 years - depending on the crime. There is no parole.

Pennsylvania uses indeterminate sentences, which provide a minimum and maximum range. The system includes a mandatory minimum term for some crimes. The state Board of Probation and Parole determines when to release an inmate who has served at least the minimum sentence.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner testified that the system lacks transparency and truth in sentencing. He said he is often asked at sentencing how long a defendant will serve. It is one question "I can't answer," he said, reported the Inquirer.

The sentencing judge, having heard all sides of a case, is in a better position than the parole board to determine sentence length, he said. The secrecy of the parole board process, Lerner said, also discourages participation by all parties and reaching the fairest result.

Michael C. Potteiger, chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole, said he had worked closely with legislators and the state's victim advocate to give victims and their families a direct voice in the parole process. Allowing the board to investigate and make a decision is better for public safety, he said. "Discretionary parole individualizes the release decision based on each offender's progress, reduced risk, and reentry preparation," he said, reported the Inquirer.

To read more: http://articles.philly.com/2013-04-26/news/38845713_1_parole-board-ellen-gregory-robb-sentencing-system

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