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PROVIDENCE—This past week, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law the ‘Good-Time’ bill, which will prevent criminals convicted of serious offenses from being released earlier because of good behavior. The legislation, drafted last year by Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and introduced by Representative Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown, Narragansett), along with Senator V. Susan Sosnowski (D-South Kingstown, New Shoreham), is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2012.
The law will prevent those convicted of murder, attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first- and second-degree child molestation sexual assault and kidnapping of a minor from earning time off of their sentences for good behavior alone, although if offenders engage in rehabilitative programs provided through the state for their crimes, they can earn up to 36 days per year off of their original sentence.
“I greatly admire the strength of the victims and families who came forward to share their stories of grief and tragedy in this fight to keep this issue at the forefront of the Legislature's agenda,” said Kilmartin. “Over the past year, I have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know several of those family members."
“While each of their stories is unique, they share a common bond: a commitment to turn their own tragedy into an opportunity to prevent others from being victimized again by early release of their perpetrators," he added.
The law has been pushed through the State House behind significant public support in response to the potential release last year of Michael Woodmansee, convicted in 1982 for the killing of five year-old Jason Foreman in 1975, as well as attempted kidnapping and strangling of a second boy, Dale Sherman, in Peace Dale.
Woodmansee earned 12 years off of his 40-year sentence due to good behavior, which was received critically in the local community. He voluntarily submitted himself to a mental institution at Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston last fall. “The signing of this Bill into law by the Governor is a bitter sweet victory for myself and my family,” said John Foreman V, brother of Jason. “For us, the loss of my brother is a permanent wound on our hearts and minds.”
“[Our] sorrow and grief motivated us to spearhead the fight on behalf of Jason and all victims of the early release statute,” he added. “It was because of the support of family, friends, neighbors and fellow Rhode Islanders that we pushed on through every General Assembly hearing and every Judiciary Criminal Oversight Committee meeting, testifying and debating the need for change.”
The language of the ‘Good Time Law’ has been deliberated upon since 2008, at which time the statute was changed to allow sex offenders reduced sentences only if they participated in rehabilitative programs. When House Judiciary Committee met for a second time in February to further discuss the bill’s merits, the Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), outlined concerns about the bill’s legal application.
“Very serious cases, such as the one involving Michael Woodmansee, understandably provoke a tremendous amount of fear and anger on the part of the public, and there is a great deal of pressure to make changes to criminal law and policy,” said Wall. “Precisely because we are talking about such serious matters, there needs to be a very thoughtful, careful vetting process of any changes made.”