For years, the rules mandating parole hearings in criminal cases in which multiple consecutive sentences were imposed have confused family members and friends of both victims and inmates.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee was told Friday that Senate Bill 71 is a sort of truth-in-sentencing measure that would go a long way toward clarifying when and if an inmate is likely to be released.
Parole Board Chairwoman Connie Bisbee told the panel that under existing statutes, a prisoner serving consecutive sentences must be paroled from one sentence before serving the next.
The confusion arises because when the inmate reaches the minimum term in the first sentence, he gets a parole hearing. Even if he’s granted parole, the inmate doesn’t get out. Instead, he begins serving the next consecutive sentence.
Family members and friends of both the victim and the inmate don’t understand that, Bisbee said. They often think it means the prisoner is going to be released and, in the eyes of the victim’s family, it’s far sooner than they were promised by the prosecutor.
SB71, Bisbee said, “aggregates” consecutive sentences so that first, second or even third initial parole hearings don’t happen. Instead, she said, no parole hearing is set until the inmate has served the minimum time on all his or her consecutive sentences put together.
For example, a prisoner serving four consecutive sentences of four to 10 years each currently would see his first parole hearing on the first count after four years.
If those sentences were “aggregated” as proposed in SB71, she said, he would serve the minimum four years on each consecutive count — a total of 16 years — before going to his first parole hearing.
The board, she said, could then consider parole on all those counts.
“It would turn four consecutive four- to 10-year sentences into a 16- to 40-year sentence,” she said.
The bill cleared the Senate on a unanimous vote. It is expected to come up for a committee vote in the Assembly Judiciary Committee soon.