The state’s Sentencing Reform Commission late last week invited face-to-face input from stakeholders who will be affected by their recommendations. A panel that includes legislators, state judges and SC Department of Corrections Director Jon Ozmint asked for direct feedback. Thursday, they met to review ideas for victims, defendants, prosecutors and judges to know about prior offenses at sentencing.
The commission chair, Senator Gerald Malloy, says meetings like Thursday’s are an important exercise, allowing them to vet ideas that came up during the commission’s regular meetings.Malloy and members of the commission call these panels “baby steps” toward improving sentencing practices in South Carolina.
The group submitted its summary report at the beginning of this year and now, Malloy says their focus is on creating meaningful legislation. “Let’s make certain that we are successful with the legislation, then try to create a system that we’ve been lacking for so long in South Carolina. We’ve had a hodgepodge in the past and it’s time for us to fix it…now.”
Victims-rights advocate Laura Hudson has followed the commission closely and praises these small steps.
“I’m very pleased because they have at least responded (today) to crime victim’s frustration of not knowing what s going to happen to the offender who has harmed them and the frustration of the judge saying ‘I am not really sure’ and the prosecutor saying, ‘ Well, I think it’s going to be this’ and the defense attorney something else and they leave the courtroom very confused as to how long somebody is actually going to serve, ” Hudson says.
Hudson is the executive director of the SC Crime Victims Council. She’d like to see the commission add more, diverse members: “They don’t have crime victims there, they don’t have triple- P’s (SC Probation, Pardon and Parole), they don’t have DJJ there, they don’t have the Department of Transportation, they don’t have everybody that needs to be involved in it that are professional. So I hope they’ll expand the size of the commission. And I think it ought to be permanent, so that people are going to come and go and it’s not about personalities but it’s about a system and how can we make it better for South Carolinians.”
Commission Chairman Gerald Malloy, a Darlington Senator, says the idea of extended the commission has been discussed, “But it is very difficult to create a standing commission because of any funding mechanisms that might be needed for it. The Senate has been amenable to oversight commissions and that may be one idea, ” says Malloy.
But for now, the current commission’s focus has been to introduce new legislation to reform South Carolina’s criminal sentencing practices. The bi-partisan commission plans to fine-tune and introduce legislation this session.