AUGUST 11, 1995

RALEIGH - Murderers and rapists are spending more time in prison now that new laws proposed by Gov. Jim Hunt have gone into effect. Violent criminals can expect even longer sentences following the 1995 legislative session which increased prison sentences by another 16%, a move also proposed by Gov. Hunt.

At the Governor's urging, the General Assembly amended the 1994 Structured Sentencing Act by increasing the number of years a violent criminal must spend behind bars. The new law which goes into effect Dec. 1, 1995, applies to those criminals convicted of second degree murder, second degree rape, first degree kidnapping, first degree burglary and robbery with a firearm.

Two years ago, a second degree murder charge brought an average seven years and eight months. Under the new law, that murderer will serve twice that - an average 16 years and eight months.

"We are serious about keeping dangerous criminals behind bars, and this new law will mean just that," Governor Jim Hunt said. "The Department of Correction has opened a number of new prisons in the past two years, and many more are under construction which will help accommodate these tougher sentences."

The General Assembly also toughened sentences for some misdemeanor crimes, allowing judges to sentence a first-time offender convicted of misdemeanor assault or assault by pointing a gun to 60 days in jail or imprisonment for repeat offenders.

Legislators also funded more than 2,000 new state prison beds to accommodate the tougher sentences, at the Governor's request.

"Punishment is much tougher now than it was two years ago thanks to the longer sentences," Correction Secretary Franklin Freeman said. "Keeping the violent offenders in prison longer should help protect the law-abiding citizens of North Carolina."