Stiffer crime penalties worry some legislators

From The Associated Press

A bill in the Kansas Senate would stiffen penalties for home burglaries, but senators are worried that the measure might further strain the state’s crowded prisons.

Assistant County Attorney for Leavenworth Christopher Scott testified to the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee on Tuesday that other than murders and rapes, home burglaries touch victims on a deeper level than any other crime.

He said victims are often incensed at what they see as disproportionately low sentencing guidelines that often result in probation even for serial offenders.

“Sometimes I joke when we get these burglary cases and they’re getting probation, ‘I wish they’d have had a little meth in their pocket when they were caught after committing the burglary,’ because we may have actually gotten some decent time on them,” Scott told the committee.

While some home burglars could still receive probation under the bill, the first conviction of aggravated burglary would result in a minimum of more than five years behind bars and repeat offenders could face more than 14 years in jail. The bill would also stiffen penalties for a burglary with the intent to steal a firearm, adding 12 months to such sentences.

Republican Sen. Jeff King of Independence said that while he was a “strong proponent” of the bill, the expectation that it would require space for about 100 more prisoners in state facilities gave him pause.

Kansas’ prison population is growing and is expected to exceed capacity by the end of 2014, according to estimates by the Department of Corrections. The department expects that state prisons will be over capacity by 7 percent by 2024.

To compensate for the potential increase, public defender Jennifer Roth proposed to the committee an amendment that would remove repeat shoplifting cases from the definition of burglary. Currently, shoplifters that have already been banned from a store are often charged with aggravated burglary, she said, rather than misdemeanor trespassing.

The Kansas Sentencing Commission is currently studying what impact such an amendment would have on prison populations.

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