PROVIDENCE- The state will spend the next six months studying potential reforms to the law that allows prisoners time off their sentences for good behavior under a resolution sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi and passed by the House of Representatives last week.
The bill asks the Criminal Justice Oversight Commission to evaluate the existing law and make recommendations for any improvements by the start of the next General Assembly session in January. The legislation is a compromise measure that arose out of a bill Rep. Tanzi (Dist. 34 of Narragansett, South Kingstown) submitted earlier this year at the request of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. That bill would have prohibited those serving jail time for certain serious, violent offenses from earning time off their sentences for good behavior or for participating in work, rehabilitation or education programs.
The original bill was introduced in March in response to news that Michael Woodmansee, who pleaded guilty to the grisly murder of 5-year-old Jason Foreman in Wakefield in 1975, was to be released in August after serving just 28 years of a 50-year prison sentence. He was initially given just 40 years of the sentence to serve, but shaved off an additional 12 years for “good behavior” and working a prison job. Since then, however, Woodmansee has indicated that he will voluntarily remain in state custody after his release from prison.
By passing the new bill, lawmakers favored taking a more comprehensive look at the issue before making changes to the current good time law.
“At some point, the prisoners who are earning time off will be released from prison into our communities. We need to find the appropriate balance between justice being served and the safety of our community. We need to explore who is eligible for education credits and who is eligible for good behavior, again, acknowledging that these individuals are the ones who eventually will be living among us,” Tanzi said.
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.
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