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Good Question: How Much Of A Prison Sentence Is Served Behind Bars

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In July 2012 a judge sentenced Amy Senser to nearly 41 months for the hit-and-run death of Anousone Phanthavong.  Less than two years later, she’s headed to work release.

On Thursday, Senser is expected to move from the Shakopee Women’s Prison to either a county jail or halfway house at night and a job during the day.  She’s expected to be there for six months before starting parole in October.

Since 1993, Minnesota laws requires what’s called determinate sentencing.

Two-thirds of the sentence is served in prison, while the last one-third is supervised release, or parole.

Since that time, many other states have adopted similar sentencing policies.

“So, basically, follow the rules and they’ll get out, uh, one-third less than their sentence and they’ll serve that time on parole,” University of Minnesota professor Joshua Page said.

Page specializes in law, crime and punishment.

The idea behind this two-thirds sentencing idea is that it facilitates the transition from prison to society while still keeping an eye on the prisoner.

“It’s very difficult for the institutionalized to assimilate back into society,” John Schadl, the communications director with the MN Department of Corrections, said.

He said supervised release, which can include drug testing, parole officers and curfew, makes it easier to bring people back into the system if they violate the rules.

A more intensive supervised release,  which can include house arrest, electronic monitoring and a mandatory 40 hours of constructive activity, is used for certain high-risk offenders.

Schadl said it also savings the Department of Corrections money.

According to the MN DOC, it costs $86 per day to house a prisoner in a prison, but only between $3 and $18 per day day to supervise a prisoner.

A small group of prisoners, including Amy Senser, can apply to leave prison before their two-thirds  time is up.

It’s a work release program made up of an average of 183 offenders that requires a job during the day and stay in the county jail at night.  Prisoners are eligible for work release after they have served at least one-half of their sentences and are within eight months of the supervised release.

They must be considered low risk for reoffending and their acceptance into the program depends on things like on criminal behavior, institutional adjustment and chemical dependency history.

The MN DOC says it costs about $61 per day to house a prisoner on work release because some of their wages go towards their housing.

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