A bill that makes age a determining factor for parole met with mixed results Thursday, with testifiers saying it could help lower prison costs, while senators shared concerns over pedophiles, murderers, and rapists being released early.
Sen. Franklin Johnson proposed two new bills, a geriatric parole bill and a maternity parking spot bill, in the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety hearing.
Johnson’s bill seeks to establish medical parole as a basis for parole, further amending to establish geriatric parole as a basis for parole and for other related purposes. Dennis Howell, chairman of the V.I. Board of Parole, testified he “is on neutral grounds” regarding the legislation since the Bureau of Corrections was not present to answer questions.
Howell’s concern was outstanding legislation would need to be revised to enhance the geriatric bill. With overcrowding becoming an issue and “one out of every nine persons having or developing mental health issues,” it would be beneficial and potentially cost-effective, Howell said.
“The department has spent over $16,000 per month on one inmate who is mentally ill. Once a person is released on parole, the Department of Corrections is no longer responsible for the medical care of that inmate,” Howell said.
Senators unanimously passed a motion to subpoena Director Winnie Testmark of Corrections to appear before the committee to give an update regarding the state of the department. With many questions looming, lawmakers held the geriatric bill for further discussion as amendments are needed.
Another of Johnson’s proposed bills sought to have a parking spot for pregnant women and mothers with newborns. The proceeds of the $500 penalty fine would go towards the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, Family Resouce Center, and the Superior Court of the V.I.
From a statistical standpoint of the bill, lawmakers did not support the bill in its original proposal. With a lower population of roughly 200 pregnant women per year in the territory and one out of four being high risk, Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger suggested the pregnancy parking be moved under disabled parking. Despite the intention behind the bill, it did not pass the committee.
Among the three bills proposed during Thursday’s hearing, the only one to pass was a bill to expand the definition of disabled veteran for the eligibility for a handicapped window decal for veterans. All senators present voted favorably in support of the measure.
“It is also the job of government agencies to make recommendations for change to the legislation as needed,” said Chairman Kenneth L. Gittens as he encouraged Howell and other agencies to reach out to any senator with regards to updating the V.I. Code.
Sens. Kenneth L. Gittens, Alma Francis Heyliger, Franklin D. Johnson, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Ray Fonseca, Javan E. James, and Diane T. Capehart were present at Thursday’s hearing.