BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Gov. Larry Hogan is pushing for what he calls “Truth in Sentencing,” an attempt to make sure repeat, violent offenders actually serve most of their sentences behind bars.
For Gov. Hogan, it will be a major issue in the General Assembly, but he faces obstacles in taking away judges’ discretion and balancing rehabilitation with a tough-on-crime approach.
“I promised that I wouldn’t go back to jail, and I just came home,” said Gregg Thomas three years ago to WJZ just before turning himself in for shooting Baltimore City police sergeant Keith McNeill.
In May, a judge sentenced Thomas to life plus 35 years, but some argue Thomas should never have been out to begin with.
Just months before Thomas shot sergeant McNeill, he’d been released from prison early, in a case where he killed a man on a Chester Street and was sentenced to 30 years.
Half of the sentence was suspended right away and Thomas earned credits for work programs and behaved himself, which resulted in less than ten years behind bars, a fraction of the original sentence.
It’s cases like Thomas’s that have the governor demanding change.
“We keep putting the same exact violent people on the streets,” Hogan said.
“It is the biggest safety threat in the state. appalled is an understatement,” said state sen. Jim Brochin (D) of Baltimore County who is also on the judicial proceedings committee. “The best idea I’ve heard so far is we start tracking the judges who are handing these light sentences out and make them accountable.”
A Pew study showed the amount of time Maryland inmates were serving actually increased from 29 months in 2005 to 35.7 months in 2014.
“Truth in Sentencing” legislation will be a tough sell for state lawmakers.
“We’ve seen numerous states implement it, and it does not have the desired effect,” said University of Baltimore criminologist Dr. Jeffrey Ian Ross.
Ross said research shows it can lead to more people behind bars.