BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives voted down a bill on Monday, Jan. 25, that would have made violent criminals eligible for parole after serving less of their sentence.
House Bill 1104 failed to pass the House by a 15-75 vote, with multiple representatives expressing their disdain for the bill prior to casting votes. Some representatives testified on the House floor in opposition, saying its passage would be harmful to the victims of violent crimes.
Those who are convicted of violent crimes, like murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and rape, among others, currently must serve 85% of their incarceration sentence before they are eligible for early release under parole. The bill would have reduced the required amount of time served to 65%.
"I honestly kind of expected it," said Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, D-Fargo, the bill's primary sponsor, about its failure. "...When we think about violent crimes — they can be some of the most heinous crimes — our instant impulse is people should be punished to the absolute fullest."
The bill would have also applied retroactively for convictions after July 31, 1995, meaning an inmate who was convicted after that date would be eligible for parole once they served 65% of their sentence. A similar bill to the one voted down on Monday was also introduced during the 2017 legislative session.
Dobervich noted the bill would not have necessarily meant that inmates would have been guaranteed an earlier release, but that the offenders would have the opportunity to be granted an earlier release date under parole, which is something they currently do not have.
"We're dealing with the worst of the worst," Rep. Steve Vetter, R-Grand Forks, said on the House floor on Monday. "We're all about this criminal justice for the criminals, well what about the victims? We stop thinking about what happens to the victims."
Among the legislators to vote in favor of the bill was Rep. Tom Kading, R-Fargo, who expressed his support for the bill on the floor. He said leaving the requirement at 85% does not give inmates an incentive to be on good behavior while incarcerated, which ultimately harms them when they are released back into the public.
"As a society we've had this tendency to want to lock people up for their crimes, throw away the key and forget about them," Kading said on Monday. "Unfortunately, this doesn't work."
Dobervich said she will reach out to both the families of inmates the bill would have affected and victims of violent crimes to determine the best way forward on this issue.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.