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Staff assault sentences

Published (3/13/2009)
By Mike Cook
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Three additional words could guarantee more time behind bars for some inmates.

The legislative intent of a statute enacted in 1997 was for a prisoner convicted of assaulting a correctional officer to serve the sentence consecutive to the one for which they are imprisoned.

However, Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound) and Department of Corrections officials say judges do not always interpret statute that way.

Sponsored by Smith, HF1039, attempts to more clearly lay out legislative intent by changing state statute from “run consecutively” to “shall run consecutively, not concurrently.”

The House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee held the bill over March 10 for possible omnibus bill inclusion. It has no Senate companion.

Smith said there were 142 assaults on corrections staff in fiscal year 2008, with 31 of those referred for prosecution.

“Staff are absolutely devastated when they’ve been assaulted by an inmate, they get prosecuted, they get found guilty and then a judge fails to follow the language and gives them a concurrent sentence or ‘time served’ so to speak,” said Lynn Dingle, the department’s deputy commissioner for facilities. “The inmate then comes back to the facility and starts bragging about how you can take a shot at any staff member because nothing is going to happen to you. … The safety of our staff is foremost for us.”

“You can’t do underscore in the statute books, but this is about as close as we can get to underscoring what the legislative intent is,” said Rep. Paul Kohls (R-Victoria). “It’s unfortunate you even have to come forward with the bill.”

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