Schaefer halts action on jail hostage bill

September 24, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Gov. William Donald Schaefer will delay his efforts to seek legislation to toughen penalties for prison inmates who take guards hostage.

Schaefer announced last month that he planned to submit such legislation to the Maryland General Assembly when it convenes for a special congressional redistricting session tomorrow.

However, the session appears likely to be contentious, and the governor has agreed to delay the bill's introduction until the legislature begins its regular session in January.

"In deference to the attention to redistricting, we've agreed to put it off until January," said David S. Iannucci, the governor's top legislative aide.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., for one, prefers to limit special sessions to their main purpose -- in this case redrawing congressional district lines -- and to address emergencies.

"While there was merit to the hostage-taking bill, the feeling is that it's not a compelling emergency that requires us to act now or never act," said Susanne Brogan, Mitchell's legislative assistant.

"We didn't want to rush through it, and we didn't want to have it get a short shrift," Brogan said.

Inmates who take guards hostage now can be charged with the common-law crime of false imprisonment, Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services, said last month.

The current law does not specify a penalty, and a judge may exercise discretion in sentencing, he said.

The bill Schaefer outlined Aug. 22 would add up to 30 years to a convicted hostage-taker's sentence and could not be suspended.

The measure is aimed at inmates in prisons and jails across Maryland.

Schaefer called for the stiffer penalty after an incident at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore in July, when inmates who botched an escape attempt took two correctional officers hostage. The guards were released unharmed the next day.

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