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State policy deals with offender increase


THE SUN WRITES (editorial, Jan. 26) that the Glendening administration has no legislation or initiatives to deal with a predicted rise in the number of criminal offenders. Just the opposite is true.

Administration legislation, introduced Jan. 22, tackles the issue head-on with the creation of a Commission on Criminal Sentencing Reform that envisions a dramatic reshaping of the way criminals are sentenced and punished in Maryland.

By changing the parole and diminution credit system, adjusting the current voluntary sentencing guidelines, and expanding intermediate punishments for appropriate non-violent offenders, the proposed commission seeks both to provide truth in sentencing and to control the long-term growth of corrections costs.

To be sure, this is no simple task. But it is being tried today in at least 19 states, has met with success in several and is the course of action strongly recommended by respected criminologists and the American Bar Association.

Whether these changes can be accommodated with current prison capacity is a question the commission would decide by the end of the year. If more beds are necessary for the incarceration of violent offenders, the capital budget plan can be amended.

In the meantime, 1,300 new prison beds at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland will begin coming on line by summer. And the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, under the leadership of Secretary Bishop

L. Robinson, is planning expansion of its state-of-the-art Correctional Options Program for non-violent offenders to areas beyond metropolitan Baltimore. That will further reduce projected prison needs.

As for the predicted surge in the population of crime-prone youths, that impact would not be felt in adult institutions for another 5 to 10 years. We can erect prototype-design prisons in 1 year.

The Maryland General Assembly and The Sun have consistently decried endless prison construction, calling instead for a more rational system that ensures violent predators serve long periods behind bars while petty thieves, probation violators and other minor offenders are punished in more cost-effective sanctions such as boot camps, home detention and community service.

The bipartisan sentencing commission legislation seeks to enact just such a system. It would help restore confidence in criminal justice, and make the best use of our correctional resources to protect public safety -- now and into the future.

The writer is lieutenant governor of Maryland.


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