Truth in Sentencing Act Exposed

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The Truth in Sentencing Act is listed under ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force and was included in ALEC's 1995 Sourcebook of American State Legislation. There is no adoption or approval information available. ALEC has attempted to distance itself from this piece of legislation after the launch of in 2011, but it has done nothing to get it repealed in the states where it previously pushed for it to be made into law.

CMD's Bill Summary

This bill would require that all defendants serve atleast 85% of their sentence and not be eligible for parole or early release programs. It is in line with a 1994 federal Truth in Sentencing law (part of a larger crime bill), which makes states eligible for federal funding if offenders serve atleast 85% of their sentence. The federal bill was set in motion by then-Attorney General William P. Barr, who worked with ALEC on these issues (Barr was a proponent of more prisons and more incarceration). "Truth in Sentencing" laws like this one have been extremely expensive for state taxpayers, as they increase the time each person is incarcerated, and have had little impact on public safety. Longer prison sentences do, however, increase the profits of the Corrections Corporation of America, formerly a member of the Executive Committee of ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force.

When current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a state representative, he was an ALEC member and introduced a "Truth in Sentencing" bill that passed in 1997. The program inflated prison populations and greatly increased the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on prisons (in Wisconsin, to an estimated $1.8 billion through 2025). All of this increases profits for private prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America. A former head of Wisconsin's prison system (and current University of Wisconsin Law Professor) Walter Dickey told American Radio Works that it is "shocking" that lawmakers would write sentencing policy with help from ALEC, a group that gets funding from-- and supposedly "expertise" from-- a private prison corporation. "I don't know that they know anything about sentencing," he said. "They know how to build prisons, presumably, since that's the business they're in. They don't know anything about probation and parole. They don't know about the development of alternatives. They don't know about how public safety might be created and defended in communities in the state and other states."[1] The Wisconsin state legislature apparently recognized the folly of Truth in Sentencing and rolled-back the law between 2001 and 2009. When Scott Walker became governor, however, he reversed this progress and requested legislation restoring ALEC's corporation-supported Truth in Sentencing, despite the costs to taxpayers and despite claiming Wisconsin was "broke."

ALEC Bill Text


This Act would require any person convicted of a crime to serve no less than 85 percent of the sentence imposed. This Act would also require any person convicted of a violent crime to serve no less than 100 percent of sentence imposed by the court.

Model Legislation

{Title, enacting clause, etc.}

Section 1. {Title.}

This Act may be cited as the Truth in Sentencing Act.

Section 2. {Definitions.}

As used in this Act:

(A) "Violent crime" means

(1) a felony involving the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument;
(2) a felony involving the intentional or knowing infliction of serious physical injury;
(3) felony sexual assault;
(4) violent or sexual felony offenses committed against minors;
(5) felony offenses which involve using or involving minors in the activities of a criminal syndicate or street gang;
(6) felony offenses committed by persons or release from another offense, either pending trial or after conviction;
(7) an offense that has an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.
(8) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense; and
(9) shall include, but not be limited to murder, arson, burglary, assault, rape, kidnapping, extortion, and robbery.

Section 3. {Sentencing.}

(A) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person convicted of a felony crime shall serve no less than 85% of the sentence imposed by the court before being eligible for parole, good time credit release, furlough, work-release or any other form of release from confinement in a secured facility.

(B) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person convicted of a violent crime shall not be eligible for parole, work release, furlough, or any other form of early release in a secured facility, except in cases where executive clemency is granted.

(C) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a life sentence shall mean a sentence of life without the possibility of parole with the exception being:

(1) The governor of the state may reduce such sentence after a public hearing where the prisoner's victim(s) and representatives of the public shall have an opportunity to be heard regarding the proposed reduction of sentence.

Section 4. {Severability clause.}

Section 5. {Repealer clause.}

Section 6. {Effective date.}

ALEC's Sourcebook of American State Legislation 1995


  1. "Truth-in-sentencing Wisconsin," American RadioWorks, accessed on March 23, 2016.