NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Lawmakers took a tougher look at sentencing laws Wednesday and heard strong warnings and advice from Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas.
Serpas and other criminal justice experts and law enforcement officials testified in front on the Fiscal Review Committee about enhancing sentencing laws. Serpas warned that if there aren't tougher sentencing laws there will not be a reduction in crime.
Currently, most criminals only have to serve 30 percent of their sentence however Serpas is advocating that armed robbers serve 100 percent of their sentence. He said the criminals have most likely committed felonies before and have no chance of rehabilitation.
He said if the state does not spend the money now to keep these people in prison they will spend it later each time they commit other crimes.
He also noted that there is also the emotional cost to each victim and neighborhood where the crimes occur.
Marianne Purcell, a legislative assistant whose fiance Chris Caris was shot and killed during a robbery at Bellacino's last year, pushed for tougher sentencing last year but the measure failed due to money. Caris, the restaurant manager, and employee Joshua Cole were shot in their heads.
"If I did nothing, then Chris and Josh and all the others who have lost their lives lose their lives for nothing," she said.
She said she was moved by the police chief's testimony and hopes new laws will bring comfort to victims and families.
Last year, the bill that failed would make violent offenders serve 85 percent of their sentence instead of 30 percent.
Former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and others have pushed for tougher sentencing laws, but the efforts were blocked by money concerns. On Wednesday, with renewed attention from the murder of a Vanderbilt professor and his sister, Serpas asked the state again to strengthen sentencing laws.
"Please tell me why we cannot assume a deterrent effect if these particular people are removed from the streets with 100 percent prison sentencing," he said.
He told the committee there's a certain group of offenders where rehabilitation would just be wasted. He said 90 percent of armed robbers in Nashville have a prior arrest; 29 percent for armed robbery. A 100 percent sentence, he said, is the only deterrent.
"And those armed robbers ought to know that if they have the gumption to put a gun to someone they ought to do a 100 percent in prison, behind the bars, no getting time off," Serpas said.
The fiscal committee must decide how much to fund tougher sentencing. The price, Serpas argued, depends on where you are willing to shift it.
"When state says it cost too much to keep dangerous people in prison, then they're telling you it doesn't cost you too much to live with them, though," he said. "And that's wrong. That is wrong," he said.
Serpas testified along with several other law enforcement and criminal justice experts including district attorneys and Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner George Little.
Last year, the Legislature enacted the Crooks with Guns bill to toughen sentencing laws for those who commit a gun crime.