Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee today signed into law legislation passed by the General Assembly to prevent those serving time for particularly serious crimes from earning time off their sentences for good behavior.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Teresa Tanzi on behalf of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, was introduced in response to the potential release last year of Michael Woodmansee, convicted of killing 5-year-old Jason Foreman in 1975 in South Kingstown.
Woodmansee, who later agreed to remain in state custody through voluntary institutional commitment, was allowed to earn 12 years off the 40 he was supposed to serve through “good time” and participation in a prison job.
The new law bans those convicted of murder, attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first- and second-degree child molestation and kidnapping of a minor from earning time off their sentences solely for behaving in prison.
Under the current system, merely existing in prison for a month without incident earns a prisoner as much as 10 days off his or her sentence. The legislation (2012-H 7112 A, 2012-S 2179A) affects those imprisoned for crimes committed after its effective date, July 1, 2012.
The bill affects only time off for good behavior, not time off given to prisoners as an incentive for participation in rehabilitative programs or educational programs that teach life or career skills.
The sponsors said it is necessary to draw a distinction between the two ways of earning time off, because participation in rehabilitative or training programs does have a public benefit by reducing the likelihood that the prisoner will return to a life of crime when released.
Tanzi said, “It makes sense to use reasonable sentence reductions to entice prisoners to participate in correctional programs that directly correspond to becoming a useful citizen upon release, better prepared to engage with society in a productive manner. What is not reasonable is the status quo: a system in which a prisoner serving time for a heinous crime can do absolutely nothing to rehabilitate himself or herself, and still be disproportionately rewarded for their ‘good behavior’ with a significant sentence reduction.”
Sosnowski said, “Serious crimes deserve serious sentences, and they shouldn’t be reduced without the prisoner doing something meaningful to reform himself or herself. Ask any of the victims or their families, and they’ll tell you that the impact of their crimes doesn’t somehow lessen over the course of the years. Out of respect for their losses and suffering, we shouldn’t be reducing sentences for heinous crimes for prisoners who aren’t necessarily even doing anything to make themselves fit to come back to our neighborhoods.”
The legislation was developed with the assistance of Criminal Justice Oversight Commission, which met over the course of the last year to discuss ways to balance the system of awarding time off to prisoners.
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