Lock-'em-up crime plan is unveiled by Bentley CAMPAIGN 1994--THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

August 17, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Republican gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley staked out a tough, lock-'em-up stand on crime yesterday, insisting that Maryland can keep thousands of inmates in prison years longer without adding to the cost of state government.

Mrs. Bentley said she would bar prisoners convicted of any violent crime from being eligible for parole.

And if someone were convicted of a second crime of violence, she would require a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole. She also would prevent violent offenders from earning "good-time" credits to shorten their stay and would bar them from work-release programs.

"The new arithmetic of the Bentley Administration will be a 10-year sentence will be 10 years served. Period," she said.

Earlier this year, state public safety secretary Bishop L. Robinson told lawmakers considering similar proposals that they would cost the state nearly $400 million over the next 15 years to build three prisons for an estimated 5,000 additional inmates. And budget analysts said operating costs would tack on another $60 million a year.

But Mrs. Bentley said yesterday she believes she could implement her plan without increasing the state budget. She said she would try to stretch prison dollars by moving non-violent inmates into boot camps or home monitoring programs and would ask federal judges to permit more double-celling of inmates. If necessary, she said, she would pay for more prisons by cutting other unspecified state programs.

The 2nd District congresswoman unveiled her plan just days after helping to defeat a $33 billion crime bill in Congress that would have sent $332 million in federal funds to Maryland for additional police, prisons and crime prevention programs. Mrs. Bentley defended her vote, saying the bill contained too much spending on "social welfare programs."

No easy matter

Some state officials questioned elements of Mrs. Bentley's crime proposal, suggesting it could be harder than she may think to open up beds in state prisons by moving non-violent offenders.

While Mrs. Bentley asserted that "most criminals in jail are non-violent," Richard A. Tamberrino, the prison system's director research and statistics, disputed that notion, saying violent offenders make up 55 percent to 60 percent of the state's prison population of 21,000.

About 2,000 new violent offenders are incarcerated each year, Mr. Tamberrino said.

Mrs. Bentley offered no cost projection for her overall plan, but said she would "dedicate the funds necessary to accomplishing what I propose in this package, even if this means spending less money in other areas." She did not elaborate.

The congresswoman also indicated faith in the political partisanship of the federal judiciary. She said she would try to save money in prison housing costs by appealing to "Reagan and Bush judges who now compromise a majority of the federal bench."

Crime major issue

Mrs. Bentley is merely the latest gubernatorial hopeful to seize on the crime issue, which the candidates obviously believe is a hot-button topic among voters this year.

Each has tried to outdo the one before, proposing ever harsher penalties as the solution to the rise in violent crime.

To underscore her support for the death penalty, for example, Mrs. Bentley said she not only would speed up appeals, but would expand capital punishment to cover drug kingpins or anyone caught selling drugs to children or on school property.

In December, Republican rival Ellen R. Sauerbrey proposed abolition of parole for violent offenders, mandatory minimum sentences for firearms offenses, accelerated death penalty appeals, and a variety of other measures that showed up in Mrs. Bentley's plan yesterday.

"She's a Helen-come-lately," complained Tom Dupree, a Sauerbrey spokesman.

In May, standing in precisely the same spot outside the old Towson courthouse where Mrs. Bentley stood yesterday, Democratic candidate American Joe Miedusiewski said fighting crime was the No. 1 issue of his campaign.

The Baltimore state senator said he would prohibit parole for two-time violent offenders, would increase to 75 percent the minimum time prisoners must serve of their sentences, and would put more police in crime areas and in community patrols.

Two other Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers, and Republican William S. Shepard have also vowed to stem the spread of violent crime, if elected.

David Seldin, a spokesman for Mrs. Bentley's principal Democratic opponent, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, accused the congresswoman of trying to distract attention from her vote against the crime bill pending in Congress.

"That bill would have given Maryland $175 million to hire police officers, $73 million to build prisons and boot camps, and $25 million for special drug courts," Mr. Seldin said. "The reason she voted against it was that she is frightened of the National Rifle Association."

Glendening ad hits crime

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