House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey said yesterday that parole should be eliminated for all violent offenders in Maryland, a change she said would require the state's prison system to add another 4,000 beds by the end of the decade.
Mrs. Sauerbrey, a conservative, four-term delegate from Baltimore County and a Republican candidate for governor, said that eliminating parole for those convicted of violent crimes is a move the state should make to crack down on the "small group of violent predators" who move in and out of the criminal justice system.
She said 75 percent of violent offenders sentenced to prison serve less than 55 percent of their sentences. Within three years of being paroled, she said, "nearly half" of them return to prison. "The public has the right to know that when a criminal is given 10 years in prison, it means 10 years," she said.
Adding 4,000 prison beds beyond those already planned would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Mrs. Sauerbrey offered no financing plan for her proposal except to say that the money would have to come from cuts elsewhere in the state budget and from increased federal aid.
She is not the first gubernatorial candidate to call for changes in parole practices as violent crime seems to grow as an issue with potential voters.
State Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore, recently said that parole should be eliminated for repeat violent offenders. He, too, said that the state must build more prison cells "to make sure there is plenty of room for career criminals who need to stay in jail a long time."
In making her proposals, Mrs. Sauerbrey acknowledged that it would be expensive to add the prison space needed to accommodate the elimination of parole for all of Maryland's violent offenders.
For instance, a 1,200-bed prison already planned for construction in Western Maryland will cost an estimated $92 million. And it costs an estimated $17,000 a year to keep an inmate in prison. But Mrs. Sauerbrey said that the state must make prisons a higher priority.
"You have to put first things first," Mrs. Sauerbrey said. "And having adequate correctional facilities has to be first. As governor, I will prioritize building the necessary prison cells."
She also said that a bill making its way through Congress could provide states with additional money for prison construction.
Mrs. Sauerbrey said that during the upcoming session of the General Assembly she will introduce legislation to eliminate parole for violent offenders -- who, along with major drug dealers, make up 60 percent of the state's total prison population of about 20,000. The legislation would apply only to those offenders convicted after Jan. 1, 1995, she said.
She said she also will introduce legislation that, if passed, would:
* Broaden the state's five-year mandatory sentence for people convicted of violent crimes with a handgun to include any type of gun.
* Make the records of juvenile offenders available to adult courts.
* Prohibit public defenders from pursuing an appeal on behalf of criminals who waive their right to appeal.
Her package included no gun-control proposals, which she dismissed as ineffective at limiting crime.
In outlining her proposals, Mrs. Sauerbrey said that many violent criminals are now given only probation -- a statement that a state corrections official said is misleading. Mrs. Sauerbrey said that 31 -- or 18.6 percent -- of the 167 people convicted of first-degree murder in 1992 were sentenced only to probation. But Leonard Sipes, director of public information for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said that 24 of those 31 probations were "split sentences" -- meaning the offenders were sentenced to both prison time and probation. The other seven, Mr. Sipes said, were either mistakenly listed as probations or represented "crimes of passion, where the defendants had no criminal histories.
"Because someone is listed as being on probation in one of our reports, it doesn't mean that the person hasn't served time," he said.