Bentley proposal faulted CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

August 18, 1994|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

A "two-strikes-and-you're-out" plan proposed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley would create severe security problems in the state prison system and end up costing taxpayers millions, Baltimore's chief administrative judge said yesterday.

Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan said increasing the ranks of lifers without chance of parole would require construction of separate prisons to hold those offenders, who would have no incentive not to escape or harm other prisoners and correctional officers.

"If you're going to have life without parole . . . you've got to have different security, because they have nothing to risk," Judge Kaplan said. "Virtually you have to have institutions just for them. Your guards have to be prepared to work in that environment."

Judge Kaplan's concerns were echoed by two other city judges, who said that while they understood the urge to get tougher with criminals, such a plan could not help but lead to construction of new maximum-security prisons.

"You'd need a whole series of Supermaxes," said Baltimore Circuit Judge Andre M. Davis, referring to the state's most secure prison.

Mrs. Bentley, the GOP front-runner, announced a get-tough plan Tuesday that she said would keep violent prisoners locked away years longer without extra cost to taxpayers. Other provisions would bar first-time violent offenders from being eligible for parole and prevent them from earning "good-time" credits or participating in work-release programs. Mrs. Bentley said she would find the extra prison beds in part by moving nonviolent offenders into less costly home-monitoring and boot camp programs.

Each of the seven gubernatorial candidates has talked tough on crime, but Mrs. Bentley's is the stiffest plan so far.

For instance, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Republican candidate, recently proposed abolishing parole for violent criminals. Democratic front-runner Parris N. Glendening also favors mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders.

But Mrs. Bentley is the first candidate to say categorically that those who commit a second violent felony should automatically go to prison for life without parole.

Even Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe, known as one of the Baltimore Circuit Court's harshest sentencers, considered such a throw-away-the-key plan unworkable. "Almost every time I have a violent felony, the guy's done one before," she said. "It's going to cause trouble. You're going to have people [in prison] who just don't give a damn."

About 1,500 of the state's 20,000 inmates were serving life sentences as of July 1993. Of those, about 100 were not eligible for parole.

Crimes defined as "violent" by corrections officials in statistics include a wide range of offenses -- murder, rape, robbery, any type of assault, and burglary, as well as attempts to commit any of those crimes. Using that definition, about 54 percent of the state's current prison population could be considered "violent," said Richard A. Tamberrino, the prison system's director of research and statistics.

Key Kidder, Mrs. Bentley's campaign press secretary, said Mrs. Bentley's working definition of violent crime was the same, but would be subject to adjustment later. "That is still 45 percent of the population that is nonviolent," he said.

Judge Davis, who sits on the governor's advisory committee on correctional options, said any candidate who hoped to expand home detention greatly would find that large numbers of nonviolent offenders now in prison would not be suitable for such a program. And he said greater use of electronic monitoring would require more training for correctional officers and the purchase of extra vehicles and equipment.

State corrections officials yesterday shied away from commenting on any candidate's crime plan.

"His position on what the candidates are saying is that we want to wait to see what the new governor wants to do," Division of Correction spokeswoman Maxine Eldridge said, explaining why Commissioner Richard A. Lanham Sr. would not comment on the proposals.

Mr. Lanham's boss, state public-safety chief Bishop L. Robinson, did not return a telephone call. But Mr. Robinson earlier this year told legislators considering other measures to lengthen prison sentences that the state would need three new prisons for about 5,000 additional inmates, at a cost of nearly $400 million over the next 15 years.

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