Pledging a practical approach to fighting crime, Republican Charles I. Ecker unveiled a series of modest proposals yesterday, including longer jail stays, more prison construction and a crackdown on juveniles who drink and drive.
For Ecker, the Howard County executive running for governor, the most sweeping change would be a "truth-in-sentencing" law. It would require violent criminals to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release.
Current law requires 50 percent. Average time served is 60 percent -- more than 10 percent longer than the U.S. average for similar crimes, say state officials.
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Ecker's rival in the Sept. 15 GOP primary, has proposed an anti-crime package. It includes tougher judges, mandatory sentences for gun-related crimes and a similar requirement that violent offenders serve 85 percent of their sentences.
But Ecker -- portraying his plan as a moderate alternative -- said Sauerbrey's history of confrontation with Democrats who control the State House would hamper passage of her programs.
"We don't need someone who has a record of not being able to work with individuals and groups," Ecker said as he stood before the state police barracks in Waterloo. "I am a successful county executive, because I have worked with people to get things done."
Carol Hirschburg, a spokeswoman for Sauerbrey, said, "Moderation in crime fighting is no virtue," adding that her supporters "are confident that Ellen Sauerbrey can get things done."
Backing longer prison stays is a popular move this election year.
The Maryland Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy, scheduled to report to the General Assembly in December, is considering a requirement that all serious, violent offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentences -- as Ecker proposed.
Sauerbrey favors abolishing parole for such offenders and allowing other early-release programs only after 85 percent of sentences are served.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, has proposed a minimum 25-year sentence for repeat rapists and other sex offenders.
Ecker's proposals yesterday were broad but largely incremental. In most cases, he proposed expanding or fine-tuning existing programs, including such things as after-school programs to keep children out of trouble.
He also favors:
* Requiring repeatedly convicted drug dealers to serve 85 percent of their sentences.
* Setting aside more money for prison construction. He declined to specify an amount.
* Expanding requirements that criminals provide restitution to victims.
* Expanding a program to notify victims when criminals are released.
* Easing access to juvenile criminal records for school and law-enforcement officials.
* Suspending the driver's license for anyone under age 21 caught drinking and driving.
Ecker promised to use his administrative skills to make laws more effective. "This is not the end-all, be-all solution to fighting crime," he said. "It consists of doable, realistic and much-needed measures."
Pub Date: 8/25/98