Lawmakers looking to shrink Texas' prison population and costs are considering a bill that would allow some people convicted of committing serious crimes as minors to apply for parole in half the time they're currently allowed.
The bill sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody, of El Paso, would allow people convicted of capital murder or other first-degree felonies committed when they were under 18 to be eligible for parole after serving half of their sentences or 20 years, whichever is shorter. Those convicted of committing capital murder as minors, for example, would be eligible to apply for parole after serving 20 years instead of the current 40 years.
During a public hearing Wednesday, some relatives of people killed during last year's mass shooting at Santa Fe High School near Houston spoke out against the legislation, saying it could allow the student accused of carrying out the attack to apply for his release after just 20 years if he's convicted of capital murder and his sentences run concurrently.
Rosie Stone, whose son Chris Stone was among the 10 people killed in the attack, asked lawmakers to exclude mass shooters if they pass the bill.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted his support for the victims' families on Thursday, writing, "I support this: No parole for mass shooters in Texas."
Moody told The Associated Press on Thursday that he has promised the families he will change the wording of the bill to exclude mass shooters.
"This bill certainly deals with eligibility, it doesn't require the parole board to parole anyone," Moody said. "I certainly don't think that individual would ever be paroled, but I am very aware of the concerns and fears of these families."
Dimitrios Pagourtzis is accused of carrying out the school attack, which also left 13 people wounded. He was 17 years old at the time, but is now 18.
Texas' overall inmate population exploded during the 1990s, growing from roughly 50,000 in 1990 to about 158,000 in 2000, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington D.C.-based research nonprofit.
A state budget crunch and proposals to build even more prisons helped launch bipartisan criminal justice reform measures in 2007. Those have allowed the state to close several lockups in recent years and dramatically reduce its incarceration costs.
Marc Levin, vice president for criminal justice policy at the Texas Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said Moody's bill strikes a balance between justice and mercy and would build on other recent changes lawmakers have made within the state's criminal justice system.
"Because we have strengthened programs in prison and supervision on parole, it does make policymakers willing to explore this," Levin said.
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