CHEYENNE — Under a bill proposed Thursday, Wyoming would no longer have a prison sentence of life without parole — a punishment currently reserved for first-degree murder convictions or repeated sex offenses.
The measure would prohibit such sentences in the future and allow the governor to shorten prison terms for inmates facing such time.
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said he raised the plan “for the sake of the state.”
“Right now we have about 21 or 22 people in for life without parole, and there will be more,” Burns said. “And at some point, we’re going to have an aged population of people serving life without parole, and the state’s going to be responsible for their medical care.”
Burns said the plan would give the governor the authority to “basically get rid of the state’s responsibility for these people.”
Cheyenne District Attorney Scott Homar opposes the measure, saying that in some cases, particularly when it comes to sex offenses, “There’s just no question that life without the possibility of parole is the only penalty they should get.”
Linda Burt, with the ACLU of Wyoming, said her group might have concerns with Burns’ bill because it could result in more people receiving death sentences.
Burns spoke at a hearing last week in favor of a separate House bill that would prohibit sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders.
Wyoming must change its law in regard to juvenile offenders in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.
The pending House bill would specify that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder must serve at least 25 years before they would be eligible for parole.
“You’re not the same person when you’re 17 that you are at 42,” Burns said. “And I don’t think their maturity is formed enough to, frankly, be responsible for the rest of their lives. The fact is, they’re going to serve at least a minimum of 25 years in prison.”
Burns said he expects his fellow legislators will give his bill “a reasonable reflection.” Co-sponsor Rep. Matt Greene, R-Laramie, declined comment.
Homar, the Cheyenne prosecutor, said the Wyoming County and Prosecuting Attorneys Association hasn’t taken a formal position on the proposal.
He said, however, that sex offenders who have been convicted three times have likely committed many more crimes.
“They’re not going to stop. There’s not going to be any level of rehabilitation that’s going to do any good. They simply need to be kept away from society,” he said.
In regard to Burns’ desire to get offenders out of prison so the state won’t be responsible for their geriatric medical care, Homar said, “I don’t think you age out of being a sex offender.”
Homar said he would also prefer to keep the sentence of life without parole as an option between a life sentence subject to commutation by the governor and a death sentence.
“If you go with first degree murder, and you don’t get the death penalty, you get life without the possibility of parole, generally there’s a reason for that,” Homar said. “That is that you’re a very violent individual. It’s a very violent crime.”