Doing the time

Our view: State policies on prison good time credits deserve serious review

March 17, 2009

Robert Looney is just one of the poster boys for the need to toughen Maryland's system of good time credits for prison inmates. He was among the cases cited last year as city and state officials sought to restrict the credits given to prisoners for good behavior and participation in education and work programs that can lead to early release of prisoners, despite the sentences they received. The system is under attack again this year in the state legislature, and it's easy to see why: Maryland prisoners, on average, serve only about 74 percent of their sentences.

Mr. Looney's case incensed city prosecutors and police because his diminution credits allowed for his release in 2006 even though he had received a five-year sentence without the possibility of parole after he was convicted of being a felon in possession of a gun. A year later, he was a suspect in an attempted murder related to a barricade situation with Baltimore police.

Inmates can reduce their sentences by earning, on average, five to 10 days, but no more than 20 days, of good time credits per month. The credits are an essential tool to help modify prisoners' behavior. But the system also has become a de facto mandatory release program, and that can be infuriating when an ex-offender commits an egregious crime after release. There's no magic formula to predict behavior, but there are some prisoners whose access to this reward system should be limited.

A bill proposed by Montgomery County Del. Benjamin F. Kramer would reduce the monthly good time credits earned by prisoners convicted of crimes of violence, sex offenses and major drug sales. The legislation offers a sensible approach to addressing concerns raised by some celebrated cases of crimes committed by ex-offenders. But the public needs to realize there is a cost to keeping inmates in prison for closer to 85 percent of their sentences. It may be time for a state-commissioned review of the system and the costs and benefits of more truth-in-sentencing policies.

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