Last week in the Baltimore Sun, Robert Ehrlich highlighted a comprehensive justice reform package released last month in Maryland that seeks to “further reduce the state’s incarcerated population, reduce spending on corrections, and reinvest in strategies to increase public safety and reduce recidivism.”
Compiled by the “Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Panel,” which convened upon Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature of legislation during the 2015 session, the package addresses years worth of growing expenses in Maryland that has lead to, in Ehrlich’s words, a “bloated and inefficient” corrections system:
“For example, last year the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services accounted for nearly 14 percent of the total state workforce and 7.1 percent of expenditures from the general fund. State spending on corrections has increased by 10 percent since 2006, adjusted for inflation.”
Ehrlich continues by recognizing that while lengthy prison sentences are necessary punishments for violent offenders, non-violent offenders, on the other hand, often respond better to alternative options that include community supervision, as other states such as Texas have discovered. This goes beyond the simple fiscal consideration that alternatives to imprisonment tend to cost fewer dollars to maintain. Incarcerating both populations together for extended periods risks inculcating non-violent offenders into a culture of criminality common among more serious or repeat offenders – making the former more of a risk upon release than when they went in:
“Prisons are an important and necessary tool for public safety — “Job One” for every public official. Violent offenders should be incarcerated for great lengths of time. Yet, far too often, low-level, non-violent individuals are swept into correctional facilities when they could otherwise be supervised in the community, thereby saving taxpayers money and allowing individuals to work, pay taxes and successfully reintegrate into society.
“Recent data reflect a trend toward longer sentences for all types of offenses, including non-violent crime, increasing overall by 25 percent over the past 10 years. Further, 40 percent of offenders find themselves back in prison within three years — a terrible indictment of our re-entry practice and procedure.”
Maryland has the opportunity through this justice reinvestment package to draw on the same successes that conservative states such as Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and others have achieved in reducing crime, improving re-entry outcomes, and saving taxpayer money.