Senate panel cracks down on recidivists

March 19, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

A sweeping anti-crime proposal that would crack down on repeat violent offenders won the unanimous approval of a state Senate committee yesterday.

The bill, endorsed by the Judicial Proceedings Committee, would force violent criminals to serve at least half of their prison sentence before parole, rather than one-fourth.

The measure also includes a "three-time loser" provision, an idea backed by President Clinton on the federal level. People convicted of a third violent crime in Maryland would receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The state currently has a "four-time loser" law.

Other provisions would open Parole Commission hearings to the public and require commissioners to reincarcerate parolees who are arrested for violent crimes.

"It will keep some scum bags off the streets," said committee Chairman Walter M. Baker, a Democratic senator from Cecil County. "I would believe the Senate will pass it because everyone wants the public to know they're tough on crime."

That's especially true during this election year. Two Democratic candidates for governor, Sens. American Joe Miedusiewski and Mary Boergers, have signed on as co-sponsors.

Despite its voter appeal, the bill's price tag may scare off potential supporters in the Senate and House of Delegates.

Budget analysts have not come up with its cost, but judging from their projections on similar bills, at least one provision of the bill would be expensive. The state could spend an extra $12.5 million a year on prisons if it requires violent offenders to serve at least half their sentences before parole.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., for one, wants to know more about the bill's cost before taking a stand.

"I'd be interested to hear from [Maryland Public Safety Secretary] Bishop Robinson about what this does to his budget," said Mr. Taylor, a Democrat from rural Allegany County.

A spokesman for Mr. Robinson said he could not comment on the bill until he could see a copy of it as amended. "It's awfully hard to respond without knowing the fiscal impact," spokesman Leonard Sipes Jr. said.

Sen. Nancy L. Murphy, a Baltimore County Democrat, introduced the bill after reading a 1993 Sun story about the Parole Commission's handling of two men who committed violent crimes while on parole. In one case, a parolee shot and killed the co-owner of a gas station in Ms. Murphy's 12th District.

Yesterday, her committee adapted ideas from other parole legislation into her bill. The bill now would:

* Require a mandatory life sentence after the third conviction for a crime of violence, such as murder, arson, kidnapping, rape, robbery or carjacking.

Currently, a life sentence does not become mandatory until a person's fourth conviction for a violent crime. That criminal has to have spent time behind bars for the first three crimes to qualify under the present law.

* Require the Parole Commission to issue an arrest warrant for a parolee charged with a violent crime. The parolee would have to stay in jail until the charges were settled.

* Require the commission to open parole hearings to victims, reporters and the public in most circumstances. The commission nows works in secret.

Senator Baker said he believes commissioners will be more accountable for their decisions if they operate in public. "When people are watching, we have a tendency to pay more attention to what we're doing, and we especially want to do the right thing," he said.

The changes will help the current parole commission "straighten up and fly straight," he said.

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