- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York’s chief judge called Wednesday for state judges to be allowed to set fixed prison terms rather than handing convicts a range of time they might serve.

Judge Jonathan Lippman said that’s the recommendation of the commission he established five years ago to evaluate New York’s sentencing laws and find ways to make them fairer and simpler and improve public safety. The commission will advocate legislation to amend sentencing laws, he said.

“Eliminating indeterminate sentences will clearly benefit crime victims, who often have a great emotional stake in when their perpetrators are released,” the judge said at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

The commission also proposed following every fixed prison term with one, three or five years of parole supervision, depending on the crime.

New York has been moving incrementally over the last 20 years to more fixed prison terms, Lippman said. However, indeterminate sentences with broad ranges still apply to more than 200 felonies. In those cases, parole boards decide when an inmate is released.

“Determinate sentencing is a better model for offenders,” Lippman said. “It allows them to structure themselves around a more predictable system and prepare themselves on a more certain schedule for leaving prison, avoiding the difficulties of grappling with instability and the whims and uncertainties of the parole system.”

The commission was chaired by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Franklin County Family Court Judge Derek Champagne, an ex-prosecutor. It included judges, defense lawyers, scholars, other prosecutors and a crime victims’ service provider.

In its report, the panel said New York already has established fixed sentences for violent felonies, drug crimes and non-violent sex offenses. Crimes still covered by indeterminate sentences, where the minimum is typically one-third of the maximum, range from grand larceny to bribery.

The commission said fixed sentences also facilitate plea bargaining, giving prosecutors and defense lawyers more certainty.

For more than a century, beginning in 1877, New York’s state prison sentences were “indeterminate,” based on the idea parole authorities could better determine when an offender has been rehabilitated and should be released, according to the report. The commission examined actual time served under current laws and suggested new fixed prison terms, plus some revisions in felony level classifications. At least two commissioners disagreed with parts of the report and added letters in its appendix.

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