Glendening Enacts Home-Detention Law

Article excerpt

Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday signed into law a bill licensing and regulating home-detention companies in Maryland, requiring that they adhere to standards imposed by state legislators.

But the new law would not have prevented the very atrocity that prompted lawmakers to approve it.

Brian Lamont Sowell, 26, was on home detention at 5:50 p.m. Nov. 25, 1996, when he raped a 21-year-old woman in Upper Marlboro. Ten minutes later, he checked in with his home-detention officer, had his anklet monitor checked as required and paid his $40 fee.

Judges and others who argued for home detention had urged that legislation should include guidelines to help courts determine which defendants are too dangerous for home detention. Virginia law, for instance, prohibits judges from releasing violent offenders to home detention.

Sowell's home detention allowed him to work at an automobile dealership between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. and spend the rest of his time in the apartment where he lived with his girlfriend.

He was on home detention while awaiting trial for robbery, although he was on five years probation for another robbery conviction. Prince George's County police charged him with raping and robbing five women between Nov. 20 and Dec. 4, 1996.

The Maryland law provides no guidelines, leaving home detention to the discretion of judges. Its critics mainly have concluded that the bill is a start, not a solution, for problems caused by a detention technique that seems to be an economic necessity.

Home detention is a substitute for jail. It's a method of detaining in their homes certain prisoners and defendants awaiting trial while keeping jail cells open for other inmates. Sometimes the detainees are allowed to maintain jobs. Many of the detainees wear electronic ankle bracelets and are checked by telephone or other means to make certain they are obeying court instructions limiting their movements.

Gerard Devlin, the Prince George's County District judge who placed rapist Sowell on home detention, had advice for the General Assembly as it began work on the measure that was intended to prevent home detainees from committing crimes. …