The Montgomery County grand jury recommends in a report to be released today reinstating solitary confinement as punishment for crimes and requiring judges to impose mandatory sentences on all offenders.
Responding to the report, the county prosecutor called mandatory sentences "an idea whose time has come." A Montgomery County judge said the report reflects "a swing in public opinion."
The semiannual report of the Circuit Court grand jury says that solitary confinement "was instituted in this country in the early 1800s (and) provided a high degree of rehabilitation and an effective deterrent to repeat offenses."
Under Maryland law, solitary confinement cannot now be imposed by a judge at sentencing. It can be imposed on a prisoner for violating prison rules during incarceration.
The "relatively severe nature of isolation" might help to "drastically" reduce the length of incarceration required, the report says, thereby lowering the cost to the public.
"While isolated, a prisoner would be provided with food, light, reading material, etc. Unfortunately, in an attempt to provide a higher degree of rehabilitation through exposure to training programs and other activities designed to occupy the prisoners' idle time, the system degraded into the manageable and worsening situation to which we find ourselves hopelessly committed today," according to the report.
Since those in solitary confinement would be isolated from other prisoners, judges would not hesitate to send them to state correctional institutions rather than less crowded local facilities, such as the Montgomery County detention center, whose costs are borne by local tax payers, the report said.
In recommending that judges be forced to impose mandatory sentences on lawbreakers, the jury asserted that sentences given out by judges often have been "ridiculously short."
"We were appalled at the number of cases brought before us which involved individuals who had been tried and convicted of similar crimes in the past," the report's preface declares.
"We were surprised to learn that many of these (previously convicted) individuals . . . had received . . . little more than a hand slap for their crimes," which the jury said included robbery, burglary and drug distribution. The "very short or suspended sentences" te jury said these defendants received were "hardly adequate to discourage similar offenses in the future," the jury said.
Montgomery State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner said the concept of mandatory sentences "is an idea whose time has come. It's time to start punishing hardened criminals and stop trying to rehabilitate them." He said that because of current law, "I don't endorse the concept of solitary confinement."
Circuit Judge John F. McAuliffe, who supervised the grand jury, viewed the report as "reflecting a swing in public opinion away from rehabilitation of criminals back to the realm of punishment." He said tht "in general I don't agree with their generalizations" about the need for mandatory sentences for all crimes. "Each case is different. Society is best served by an honest, conscientious judge who considers all aspects of the case in making a sentence."
He called the recommendation for sentencing criminals to solitary confinement "a novel idea, but I haven't thought about it much."
Del. Joseph Owens (D-Montgomery), chairman of the House of Delegates Committee on the Judiciary, said the group is considering some bills that would require mandatory sentences mandatory for al.
Among the jury's other recommendations:
In determining whether bail should be granted; consideration the crime a suspect is accused of, prior criminal record and evidence that will be used against the suspect.
There should be mandatory registration af all hand guns and a mandatory two-year sentence for anyone convicted of failing to register a weapon.
The jurors called U.S. andstate hand gun laws "toothless and pathetically inadequate."