Gross misdemeanor bill 'gateway' to penal code reforms, Yonts says

10/11/2016 02:25 PM

FRANKFORT — With the 23 members of the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council meeting to dig into potential penal code reforms, Rep. Brent Yonts says the bill he first proposed during the 2016 General Assembly could serve as the starting point for the sweeping reforms.

Yonts proposed creating an entirely new class of crimes qualified as a gross misdemeanor. The legislation would include reducing sentencing guidelines for three crimes including: flagrant nonsupport (child support), forgery second degree and possession of a forged instrument, under $500.

The Greenville Democrat was a member of the legislature in the late 1990’s when the General Assembly “got tough on crime” by increasing penalties across the board.

“We have found out over the time period since then, that hasn’t worked,” Yonts said, adding that the legislature has since augmented those reforms and reduced the crime rate, but the incarceration rate has increased.

The increase in incarceration is “costing us a ton of money,” Yonts said during an interview with Pure Politics in his Frankfort office on Tuesday.

The gross misdemeanor category is a way for the General Assembly to address non-violent, non-sexual crimes while still punishing perpetrators and seeking better outcome for communities. There’s a growing number of studies which shows that harsh prison sentences and conditions increase the rate of recidivism.

The legislation would also save the state approximately $21 million, in part by creating an “earned parole” component for individuals charged with Class-D non-violent, non-sexual crimes. Offenders who have not committed any other crimes would automatically receive parole after serving 15 percent of their sentences, or two-months depending on which is longer.

Yonts’ bill would also include maximum sentencing guidelines for the gross misdemeanor category capped at 24 months behind bars.

As the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council works towards revamping penal codes, Yonts said he expects his bill would be included in whatever comes from the group. However, Yonts is not taking any chances, he will also file stand-alone legislation in the upcoming 2017 General Assembly.

“I’m not going to be one who says you’ve got to pass my bill or you’re not going to get it. I’ll take it wherever I can get it, because the issue is how do you solve this problem of cost with incarceration,” he said.

Watch the full interview with Yonts in the clip below.


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