March 22, 2011

Tanzi and Sosnowski to submit bill amending law that allows prisoners time off for good behavior

STATE HOUSE – Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Teresa Tanzi joined Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin at a press conference to announce legislation to amend the law that allows convicted criminals early release for good behavior.

The legislation (2011-S 0753, 2011-H 5990), which the two legislators will submit on the attorney general’s behalf, amends the statute to prohibit several offenses from being eligible for time off for good behavior as outlined in the current statute. 

Under the proposed legislation, those who commit murder, kidnapping of a minor, first-, second- or third-degree sexual assault, first- or second-degree child molestation, child pornography or first-degree child abuse will be prohibited from receiving time off for good behavior and would not be allowed to earn additional time from participation in and completion of educational programs. 

Upon the effective date of the legislation, those already incarcerated for committing an aforementioned crime will no longer be able to earn time off for good behavior or be eligible for educational credits, although inmates will be able to maintain the balance of good time credits they had previously earned.

The legislation also requires that inmates who are released early because of good time credit be subject to the parole board community supervision conditions for the full length of the original sentence, including time off earned for good behavior, and that if they violate their probation or parole they can be ordered to serve the remainder of their sentence, including any time previously credited to them for good behavior. 

In addition, the legislation gives greater discretion to the Department of Corrections to grant, reduce or revoke time off credits for prisoner conduct that presents a threat to the public safety or welfare. The legislation also eliminates time off for good behavior for performance or completion of different Corrections programs, or for providing “useful ideas and programming” that have been implemented at the ACI.

Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) said, “Those who commit the most heinous of crimes should not qualify for early release from prison for good behavior. As a South Kingstown mother whose children were just a little younger than Jason Foreman at the time of this atrocity, I know the fear and anguish that gripped the community, but can only imagine the pain that the families continue to endure. We have been working in cooperation with Attorney General Kilmartin since this issue came to light, and listening to the voices of those we represent in the community. I will work to see that this legislation is enacted and I support the Attorney General in taking whatever legal action is necessary to ensure that dangerous murderers remain behind bars.”

Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) concurred, saying, “The possibility that Michael Woodmansee could be released so early after committing such an atrocious crime has reopened the wounds the Foreman and Sherman families have suffered for decades and has made our neighborhood relive all the horror and fear it experienced when Jason disappeared and when his murder was discovered. On behalf of our community, I’ve been working with Attorney General Kilmartin and the Department of Corrections to take a critical look at laws that allow someone convicted of such an unimaginable crime to have one-third of his sentence shaved off for ‘good time.’ I can promise that during the legislative process we will do everything we can to put this law under the microscope, make the changes necessary to ensure that justice is being served, and protect our community.”

Attorney General Kilmartin said, “The time off for good behavior for those who commit egregious crimes was enacted in an era when we believed our communities were safe from monsters and predators. We have an obligation to continually look at the laws that are designed to protect our communities to ensure that they remain relevant in an ever changing society. With the news of the early release of Michael Woodmansee, who viciously and deliberately killed 5-year-old Jason Foreman, the community shares the pain and outrage of the Foreman family. While this legislation will do nothing to erase that tragedy, it will hopefully bring a sense of justice and peace to the family and the community knowing that another child murderer will not be allowed time off for good behavior.”

Attorney General Kilmartin added, “This is a comprehensive and constitutional legislative proposal which, if enacted, would create a significant and necessary shift in public policy, while at the same time create a more equitable balance between the public safety needs of Rhode Islanders, the rehabilitative needs of prison inmates and the operational needs of the Department of Corrections. It will go a long way in helping to ensure our neighborhoods are safe and secure.”

Attorney General Kilmartin also announced an amendment to the Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act, also known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, that is currently before the General Assembly that would make child killers subject to registration and community notification.

“Committing murder of a child is just as heinous as child molestation and sexual assault. We need to have a system in place that accounts for the whereabouts of such violent criminals so law-abiding citizens can have peace of mind,” continued Kilmartin.

Named after the murdered 6-year-old son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh, the Adam Walsh Act dramatically enhances criminal penalties for sex offenders who fail to register with authorities and requires states to group offenders into “tiers” based on the severity of their crimes. The act also requires that more personal information about sex offenders appear on public registries, such as their home and work addresses.

The act also provides retroactive registration for those adjudicated of sex offenses, but not currently required to register, under the following circumstances: 1) the offender is currently in the criminal justice system, 2) the offender is already subject to pre-existing sex offender registration requirements, or 3) the offender re-enters the criminal justice system due to a felony conviction. The attorney general’s amendment would expand those required to register to include individuals who commit murder of a child, including Michael Woodmansee.