ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland inmates could earn credits to reduce their sentences by receiving academic degrees or certificates under a measure approved by the House of Delegates on Thursday.
The House voted 81-54 for the bill despite arguments from opponents who said it would give undeserving criminals the opportunity to get out of jail early.
Inmates can already earn the credits for good behavior, work tasks and special projects, but must complete at least half of their sentence before they can become eligible for early release.
Three Republicans broke with the majority of their party and voted for the bill.
Republican Delegate Mike McDermott, a commander in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, said the opportunity to earn credits serves as incentive for inmates who may otherwise not be motivated to complete a degree.
“They’re always going to be someone who has that mark on them for the rest of their life, but this is an opportunity for us to do something about it,” McDermott, R-Worcester, said. “I am not in the business of being on the street trying to warehouse people for the rest of their life.”
The bill, which will now be considered by the state Senate, allows inmates to earn 60 days of credits for completing a high school diploma or equivalency degree, a two- or four-year college degree, a certification in applied sciences, a technical education diploma or a civics education program that requires passing a final exam.
Earlier this week, the House adopted an amendment from Delegate Patrick McDonough, R-Baltimore County, to prohibit inmates convicted of murder from benefiting from the program.
He and other opponents argued that even with the amendment, rapists and other violent offenders would be able to qualify for undeserved reduced sentences.
Maryland law prohibits people convicted of first- or second-degree rape or a sexual offense against someone under 16 and those serving a repeat sentence for a third-degree sexual offense against someone under 16 from earning any kind of sentencing credit.
Opponents of the bill said that policy does not provide adequate retribution for criminals who rape older victims.
“You want to vote for a bill that’s going to give time out early credits for someone who was convicted of a first- or second-degree rape of an 18-year-old victim?” House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, asked House members. “Think about that. You want to live with that?”
Delegate Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, told her colleagues that she was raped at age 16, but supported the education credits regardless.
“I truly resent the experiences of women like me being used a political tactic in this debate,” Kelly said.
McDonough, who suggested Kelly’s viewpoint would not align with the majority of rape victims, said he will take his fight against the measure to state senators.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)