“It still needs to pass even if attempted murder is not included,” Andrea Wilmot, 22, said of a bill that was introduced to the House to prohibit prisoners convicted of and serving sentences for certain crimes from earning credits toward early release. “If you’re charged with a crime, you should do the time that was given and you shouldn’t get good behavior for crimes like that.”
Wilmot, along with her mother, Colleen, was at last week’s House Judiciary Committee hearing at the State House. Wilmot was stabbed 20 times in front of her Cranston home last year. Seven others testified in support of the legislation.
Her assailant, Christopher Amaral of 28 Roosevelt Drive in Bristol, was charged with assault with intent to murder and is on home confinement. He is yet to be sentenced.
The bill, introduced by Representative Teresa Tanzi at the request of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, asks that “good time” credits be revoked from offenders imprisoned for murder, kidnapping of a minor, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree child molestation sexual assault and second-degree child molestation sexual assault.
Inmates would no longer be eligible for what is commonly known as good time credits within the Adult Correctional Institute (ACI). Under the legislation, inmates would not lose any credits, but could not earn more.
If approved, it would take effect on July 1. For now, the House opted to hold the bill, as the Criminal Oversight Justice Committee, which consists of 11 members, is reviewing the issuing of good time credits. A report is due April 2.
A.T. Wall, director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, attended the meeting and discussed the fiscal impact of the bill if passed, as well as potential population issues.
“The number of inmates whose length of stay would be affected is approximately 500,” Wall said. “ There is not yet a number associated with the amount of money it would cost. It’s your duty to weigh that against the other consequences.”
Wall also said awarding time off for good behavior is beneficial to prisoners and staff members alike because it encourages inmates to follow institutional rules. Inmates are only given food time credits if they don’t make any disciplinary infractions, said Wall.
“We are taking a group of people who tend to be anti-social and trying to get them to understand cause and effect and consequences,” he said. “These people will ultimately be released and there needs to be some incentive given for them to work on the behaviors that caused them to commit the crimes and be incarcerated in the first place.”
Steven Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the committee that population issues would most likely result upon passage of the bill. He said that it is crucial to remember that if the population at the ACI reaches a certain cap, the alternative is releasing inmates.
Robert Lantagne, second vice president of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correction Officers, spoke as well. He said the organization is strongly in favor of the passage of the legislation and argued that fiscal issues should not hold so much weight on the bill.
“We’ve heard that there are [financial] costs that come along with this but there are people whose families are dealing with a cost because of this,” said Lantagne.
Further, he said as a correctional officer, prisons do not need good time to maintain appropriate levels of inmate behavior. He feels that there are many ways to enforce good behavior, such as segregation, the reduction or loss of visits, loss of access to television and the use of telephone calls, as well as various recreations like playing basketball.
“These are very effective tools our staff can use on a daily basis if needed,” Lantagne said. “We are not against good time – we are against how liberal the program is.”
Colleen said she is not thrilled with the outcome of the hearing. She said she has spoken to Tanzi on the phone numerous times and asked if attempted murder would be added to the bill. She claims she was never given a straight answer.
But in a phone interview yesterday, Tanzi said she doesn’t have the authority to add Colleen’s request, as she is merely the prime sponsor and didn’t draft the bill.
In the future, Tanzi said, Colleen will get the opportunity to testify during a public hearing to request attempted murder be included.
“It can be brought for discussion at the next meeting if she’s able to get the testimony together and submit it to [the House] in advance,” said Tanzi.
Moreover, Colleen said the fact that the issue of financial costs was discussed at length was upsetting.
“How can you put a price tag on the value of somebody’s life?” said Colleen. “This was a brutal attack and his intent was to murder my daughter.”
To encourage the House to add attempted murder to the bill, the Wilmots created an online petition at www.change.org/petitions/andrea on Sunday. At press time, there were 127 signatures. Andrea said she is pleased her friends are sharing the link on their Facebook pages.
“It’s creating a chain of awareness,” she said. “I don’t hesitate to tell people my story because I want it out there. I want people to know what happened to me so they are more aware. I was very naive and didn’t realize these kinds of people existed. The experience has made me more aware of my surroundings and everyone should know that.”
Andrea Wilmot, a 2008 Cranston West graduate, was attacked at her home in July at 2:30 a.m. Upon arriving home, Amaral allegedly attacked Andrea from behind. Colleen said Amaral had sought to date her daughter but she had refused.
When Cranston Police arrived shortly after, Andrea was lying in the driveway. She told police Amaral grabbed her and stabbed her multiple times in the head, neck, shoulders, chest and arms before fleeing the scene. Her wounds were treated at Rhode Island Hospital by a team of 16 surgeons. She was hospitalized for nine days and continues to undergo physical and occupational therapy.
Andrea said she met Amaral at Seabra Supermarket on Pontiac Avenue in Cranston, where they both worked. After allegedly slashing her tires five months ago, he was fired by the store.
As a result of the attack, Wilmot has limited use of her right hand. Despite her injury, she will be graduating from the University of Rhode Island in May with a Bachelor’s in Accounting and a minor in theater.
“I go through times when I get mad and upset, but I try to remain in a positive, happy mode,” she said. “Sometimes, I don’t realize that I’m going through the emotions. I want to make this a positive thing. I may have started out negative, but I want to make a change.”
At the hearing, Kilmartin said he drafted the bill because he was appalled to learn that there was a possibility that 12 years would be shaved off Michael Woodmansee’s murder sentence due to good behavior credits. Woodmansee was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1983 after pleading guilty to the second-degree murder of a 5-year-old boy in 1975. Kilmartin then called on a group of senior attorneys in his office to review the current good behavior system.
In a letter to the House, he wrote, “In that review, it was determined that some offenses are so egregious that they should not warrant the benefit of good behavior credits toward early release. Let us not forget that good behavior credits are a privilege, not a right; good behavior is what is legally required and should be the expectation of prisoners.”
He continued, “Everyday, dangerous and violent felons are being released into our communities due to the current state of our good time law … After the life changing incidents that have occurred to victims, especially victims of these crimes, there should be some relief in truth in sentencing.”