Chiefs: Age shouldn't affect sentence
COLUMBIA -- Armed robbers who are young should not get dramatically shorter sentences just because of their age, three Lowcountry police officers told a Senate panel Wednesday.
Early release of prisoners discussed; Move would be response to budget deficits, published 02/24/10
The three officers made their comments while trying to persuade the panel to get rid of a portion of a new sentencing reform bill that would allow youthful armed robbers to serve as little as three years instead of the state's 10-year minimum for the crime.
Except for that objection, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the bill, drafted from recommendations by the state's Sentencing Reform Commission, would help make the community safer and better handle South Carolina's career criminals. He was joined by Mount Pleasant police Capt. Stan Gragg and North Charleston Capt. Scott Deckard.
In all, the bill would divert nonviolent offenders from prison to keep space open for violent criminals. The legislation also has sparked talk of early release of some inmates, but that has not been made a formal part of the bill.
The controversial part would drop the minimum sentence from 10 years to three for a youthful offender who commits armed robbery. The provision could affect armed robbers younger than 17, or between the ages of 17 and 21, depending on how the bill is drafted.
In the mid-1990s, the state set the minimum sentences for armed robbers, including youthful offenders. But an effort to cut the sentences began after a 2006 case involving Wando High School students. Two of the students are serving 10 years for robbing a Mount Pleasant grocery store.
Victoria Middleton, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in South Carolina, said, "We all want to reduce violent crime, but the point of reform is to make smarter decisions about which punishments are appropriate and which offenders are likely to re-offend, not lock them all up and throw away the key," she said.
The subcommittee is expected to finish its work on the bill next week and send it to the full Judiciary Committee.