More jail time for molesters defeated

April 02, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

An effort to increase jail time for child molesters has failed in the Maryland General Assembly.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he'll likely come back next year with a bill that's carefully crafted to address opponents' concerns.

A group of Hagerstown-area mothers whose children were sexually abused testified in favor of legislation that would have forced child sexual offenders to serve more of their sentences.

Right now, offenders are eligible for parole after serving one-quarter of their sentences and can get credits for time served to shorten their sentences.


One man who molested his 8-year-old granddaughter was eligible for parole after serving a little more than a year for the crime, testified a Hagerstown mother, whose name is being withheld to protect her daughter's identity.

The woman said Thursday she was disappointed, but that she and others would try again next year.

"What we did was really worthwhile. I guess we'll just hang in there and do it next year," she said.

Washington County Victim Witness coordinator Jill Ritter also testified in support of the law change, saying she has a hard time explaining to victims why their abusers don't serve much time.

The House Judiciary Committee killed Shank's legislation, which would have reduced offenders' credits for time served.

The committee, and the full House of Delegates, passed legislation to make first-degree child abuse a violent crime. Offenders who commit violent crimes must serve at least half their sentences before being eligible for parole.

That bill, sponsored by Del. Neil Quinter, D-Howard, originally proposed making all types of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, a violent crime.

Shank said committee members were concerned about making the legislation too broad by including all child abuse, even cases of statutory rape.

There wasn't enough time left in the session to resolve their concerns, which would have essentially meant rewriting a section of the criminal code, he said.

Quinter's bill heads to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where a hearing has not been scheduled.

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