RI Senate postpones vote on early release policies

A vote is expected Thursday on legislation that would keep Rhode Island’s most dangerous criminals locked up longer.

The vote was expected Wednesday, but lawmakers are still fine tuning the legislation.

One measure is specifically aimed at Michael Woodmansee, whose case spawned the legislation. It would give the Department of Corrections more power to use psychological evaluations to keep him locked up longer.

Woodmansee is the child killer due to get out of prison later this year, years early because of credit for good behavior. Woodmansee was convicted of second-degree murder in 1983 after admitting he killed Jason Foreman in South Kingstown in 1975.

A second bill is aimed at others like Woodmansee to keep them locked up longer.

The proposal would eliminate good time for the most violent offenders, but the bill is now being tweaked because of concerns from the Department of Corrections and the attorney general’s office.

“Actually, it wouldn’t be feasible for them to actually incorporate the requests of the bill because of manpower issues and also the discretionary issues,” said state Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, the bill’s sponsor.

The plan is to trim the crimes that would fall under the bill’s umbrella. Sosnowski said she doesn’t believe the bill is being gutted.

“I believe that we are moving forward, and we are going to protect people from the people who have been incarcerated for the most egregious crimes,” Sosnowski said.

Jay O’Connell was kidnapped as a child from Pawtucket in the 1970s.

“The children that unfortunately are killed, raped, murdered in this country every day, they don’t have voices. I’m a living victim, so I get to speak out,” O’Connell said.

He has a simple message for lawmakers.

“Pass that law that’s going to keep violent offenders, killers, child killers, child rapists in prison where they belong,” O’Connell said.

There is a cost associated with keeping criminals behind bars longer, but the attorney general’s office said it’s worth the price.

The attorney general, the Department of Corrections and the American Civil Liberties Union, which all had concerns, are withholding comment until they see the final version of the legislation.