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June 15. 2011 9:16PM

Parole board will decide who can get out of prison

CONCORD — What a difference a day makes.

House and Senate negotiators agreed on Wednesday to let the Adult Parole Board determine which violent and sexual offenders should be released from prison nine months early.

The agreement ended a day-long stalemate Tuesday among members of a conference committee trying to hash out changes to the 2010 parole reform legislation known as SB 500.

The House had supported the current reform law, which called for releasing all convicts nine months before the end of their maximum sentence. The Senate advocated returning the discretion to the parole board.

A law enforcement official said the current nine-month system is good policy.

Associate Attorney General Ann Rice said “the people who commit violent crimes are the ones you want under supervision before they go free for safety reasons and so victims will fell secure. I'm disappointed that will not happen.”

On Tuesday, House negotiators refused to budge on the issue. But on Wednesday, House Republican Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt replaced the House's chief negotiator, Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston.

Bettencourt said Welch was ill, and the majority leader quickly agreed with the Senate version.

Passed with bipartison support last year, SB 500 intended to save the state money by reducing both prison populations and inmate recidivism.

However, the program became controversial last fall after several highly publicized cases involving early-release offenders.

Still, some House members remained adamant about keeping the nine-month mandatory release intact.

Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, said inmates who don't attend prison programs are exactly the people who should be under enhanced supervision. If released at the end of their sentence, they have no oversight, he said.

One of the authors of the House bill, Shurtleff would not go along with the Senate revision and was replaced on the negotiating team.

He called the situation disheartening for the people who came to the public hearing and three subcommittee meetings and offered suggestions that helped craft the House version of the bill.

“Now, it's all for naught,” Shurtleff said.

The House and Senate agreed Tuesday to another change. The parole board will be able to determine how long a SB 500 convict who violates parole must return to prison. Current law limits his return to 90 days.

The House and Senate will meet Wednesday to vote on the agreement.


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