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Senate Bill would allow some lifers parole

Public Domain
From left: Senator Art Rusch & Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan

Certain inmates serving a mandatory life sentence might get a shot at parole.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bill allowing parole consideration for lifers who committed murder or manslaughter before the age of 25. But the bill requires the inmate to serve 25 years before being eligible and exempts lifers convicted of Class A felonies, which carry the death penalty.

Sen. Art Rusch said he sponsored Senate Bill 172 because young offenders are less culpable than older offenders and more likely to rehabilitate.

Rusch said the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that people under 18 have to be treated differently, but people don’t magically develop more mature behaviors at age 18.

“Older adolescents are developmentally similar to their younger counterparts,” he said.

Rusch said violent crime arrests drop off in older age groups, and the cutoff seems to be between ages 25 and 29.

“The research indicates that probably somewhere between 20 and 25 is when brains actually mature,” he said.

One of the opponents is Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan.

He said there is no reason to believe that people under 25 are unable to control themselves.

“If the average 18 to 25 year old couldn’t regulate their behavior, can you imagine what life on our college campuses would be like?”

McGuigan said people serving life sentences can apply for commutation, and the governor can commute a life sentence to a term of years.

He said victims of these inmates’ crimes need to be considered.

“Victims are entitled to closure and should not be subjected to a lifetime of biannual parole hearings for offenders who either murdered a family member or somehow other caused them a lifetime of harm,” McGuigan said.

In response, Sen. Rusch said he doesn’t dispute that inmates serving life committed horrible crimes, but the question is whether the lifer has been rehabilitated.

He said the parole board is made up of people with long experience in law enforcement who evaluate requests and have the power to say no.

Rusch said giving previously hopeless inmates a reason to hope might improve conditions inside the prison. The lifers might have a reason to behave.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.