November 8, 2011

Criminal Justice Oversight Commission discusses ‘good time’

STATE HOUSE – As the result of legislation sponsored earlier this year by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, the Criminal Justice Oversight Commission is discussing Rhode Island’s laws granting criminals time off their prison sentences for good behavior.

The commission met yesterday to review Rhode Island’s “good time” laws and is expected to meet again before the start of the General Assembly session in January to discuss any changes it may recommend to those laws. 

Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) sponsored a resolution requesting the commission’s recommendations after it was announced this spring that Michael Woodmansee, who pleaded guilty to the grisly murder of 5-year-old Jason Douglas Foreman in Wakefield in 1975, was to be released in August after serving just 28 years of a 50-year prison sentence. Ultimately, Woodmansee was not released because he opted to remain in state custody in a mental facility.

Many in Representative Tanzi’s district and throughout the state were outraged that Woodmansee, who was given 40 years of his 50-year jail sentence, was able to shave 12 years off his sentence for good behavior and working a prison job. Representative Tanzi submitted the legislation to ensure that Rhode Island’s laws regarding time off for good behavior encourage safety and order in prisons without being overly lenient. 

“We need to keep in mind that anybody earning time of his or her sentence is going to be released at some point, so it’s in the community’s best interest to see that they participate in programs that rehabilitate them. Getting time off is a strong incentive for them to willingly participate,” said Representative Tanzi. “But violent offenders should not be rewarded for merely existing without causing a problem. They should only be given time off for taking the initiative to rehabilitate and make themselves fit for life in the community again.”

The representative said she looks forward to receiving the commission’s recommendations.

The Criminal Justice Oversight Commission is an existing panel charged with coordinating, monitoring and evaluating improvements to the criminal justice system including matters related to the inmate population and the state’s prisons. Its members include the attorney general, the superintendent of the State Police, the director of the Department of Corrections, the chairperson of the Parole Board, the public defender, members of the judiciary, a representative of a victims’ rights group and others with knowledge of the criminal justice system in Rhode Island.