Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Comprehensive and Common Sense Justice Reform in Maryland

 

Jails-620x394Last 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.

Originally posted at RightOnCrime.com.

There are 13 comments.

  1. Ron Selander Member

    The article from the Baltimore Sun says that: “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.”

    I find this statistic to be very strange, either they had adopted more stringent Sentencing Guidelines 10 years ago or else the crimes for which the defendants were sentenced were more egregious instances of those crimes. Does anyone know why these longer sentences were ordered?

    • #1
    • January 19, 2016, at 2:29 PM PST
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  2. twvolck Member

    If “40 percent of offenders find themselves back in prison within three years — a terrible indictment of our re-entry practice and procedure,” does that mean that the re-offenders spent too long in prison? Or were they released too early? We need to know a lot more than we are being toldd in order to evaluate these proposals.

    • #2
    • January 19, 2016, at 2:39 PM PST
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  3. Michael Haugen Contributor
    Michael Haugen Post author

    @ Ron: As it relates explicitly to Maryland, I can’t say for sure without researching their particulars for that time period.

    I can, however, make one point: Maryland’s trend towards longer sentences for even non-violent crimes tracks with the same trend among offenders at the federal level since 1980, according to data from Pew (http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2015/08/federal-drug-sentencing-laws-bring-high-cost-low-return).

    Average sentences for drug crimes increased federally 36% since 1980, despite evidence that such increases haven’t curbed drug use or availability. Bottom line: whatever is driving those increased sentences federally–and in Maryland–isn’t thwarting those types of crime. Other states have had great success with swift and certain sanctions, drug courts, and increased use of probation/parole for amenable offenders. Maryland should draw on that experience.

    • #3
    • January 19, 2016, at 2:47 PM PST
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  4. Man With the Axe Member

    My opinion is that states like Maryland should be as creative as possible with the punishment of non-violent offenders, and maybe even with some violent ones.

    Incarceration is problematic for many reasons, including the amazingly high cost and the “crime school” character of some prisons, both already mentioned. There is also the lost productivity (opportunity cost) of the prisoners, who might have been doing something more valuable than sitting around. There is the brutalization of many prisoners by others, including violent rape.

    In addition to community service, house arrest, and fines, there could also be more use of boot camps, humiliation, and corporal punishment. Maybe the prisoner can be offered a choice of penalty, at least in some cases. For example, significant fines, to be paid over a period of years, actually make money for the state instead of costing a lot of money. Corporal punishment is relatively cheap to impose.

    • #4
    • January 19, 2016, at 4:59 PM PST
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  5. GrannyDude Member

    Man With the Axe:My opinion is that states like Maryland should be as creative as possible with the punishment of non-violent offenders, and maybe even with some violent ones.

    Incarceration is problematic for many reasons, including the amazingly high cost and the “crime school” character of some prisons, both already mentioned. There is also the lost productivity (opportunity cost) of the prisoners, who might have been doing something more valuable than sitting around. There is the brutalization of many prisoners by others, including violent rape.

    In addition to community service, house arrest, and fines, there could also be more use of boot camps, humiliation, and corporal punishment. Maybe the prisoner can be offered a choice of penalty, at least in some cases. For example, significant fines, to be paid over a period of years, actually make money for the state instead of costing a lot of money. Corporal punishment is relatively cheap to impose.

    I think we should greatly expand the use of intensive, supervised probation for non-violent offenders, with prison as the back-up for those who don’t follow the program. A non-violent offender can wear a big, orange GPS bracelet, and we can hire more probation officers to monitor his movements. He can go to work, support his family, change diapers, do the housework, whatever…in an environment where being a criminal isn’t normal and accepted (as it is in prison) but embarrassing and strange.

    Having said that, there are “non-violent” offenders whose convictions have been pled down from more serious or worrisome crimes, so discretion (dare I say “judgement?”) would still need to be brought to bear on individual cases.

    • #5
    • January 19, 2016, at 5:10 PM PST
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  6. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Kate Braestrup: He can go to work, support his family, change diapers, do the housework, whatever…in an environment where being a criminal isn’t normal and accepted (as it is in prison) but embarrassing and strange.

    This assumes that such behaviors exist in the communities where they live. Too great a number of our citizens exist outside the civil society and are unbound by its conventions.

    • #6
    • January 19, 2016, at 5:19 PM PST
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  7. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    I would add body cams as a requirement when outside home or school.

    Juvenile crime is a big problem here. GPS ankle bracelets and body cams could work.

    • #7
    • January 20, 2016, at 3:52 AM PST
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  8. Duane Oyen Member

    Indeed, there are many technology solutions that are now viable that were never in existence before. Un-removable constant monitoring sensors, RF links, cams, etc. that really step on his freedom but make it unnecessary to lock him (it’s mostly a “him”) up should be implemented.

    Everything that we require of a cop is pretty easy to require of a felon.

    • #8
    • January 20, 2016, at 10:14 AM PST
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  9. Dad Dog Member

    We’ve already instituted this in California, via Prop. 47. “Non-violent” offenders (read: drug users and thieves, who are essentially the same population) have seen their crimes reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, and sentences shortened accordingly. Thousands are back on the street, with increased “community supervision” . . . in theory.

    The result?

    Property crimes in California (especially home and vehicle burglaries) have exploded. From the Washington Post: A ‘virtual get-out-of-jail-free card’.

    Why?

    People who use drugs need money to buy the drugs. They don’t/can’t/won’t work, so . . . where do they get the money for the drugs? Your DVD player and television and computer, your jewelry and CDs, your car stereo, etc.

    Good luck, Maryland.

    • #9
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:29 PM PST
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  10. Michael Haugen Contributor
    Michael Haugen Post author

    @Dad Dog: Justice Reinvestment Initiatives–like the one Maryland is contemplating, and those already adopted by southern conservative states like Texas, Georgia, etc.–don’t involve reclassification of felony offenses to misdemeanors like California has adopted.

    JRI instead proposes empirically-proven diversion programs for amenable non-violent offenders (drug courts, increased use of probation/parole, coupled with swift and certain sanctions for violations, etc.), while dedicating prison space for truly violent or repeat offenders. Such diversion programs have the benefit of data and experience backing them up, while California’s reforms came largely as a result of an edict from SCOTUS due to overcrowding.

    There is little, if any, evidence to support the suggestion that Maryland’s program, should they pass it, would yield CA’s results.

    • #10
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:40 PM PST
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  11. Dad Dog Member

    Michael Haugen:JRI instead proposes empirically-proven diversion programs for amenable non-violent offenders (drug courts, increased use of probation/parole, coupled with swift and certain sanctions for violations, etc.), while dedicating prison space for truly violent or repeat offenders. Such diversion programs have the benefit of data and experience backing them up, while California’s reforms came largely as

    I’m familiar with the proven success of drug courts; I was the assigned prosecutor in ours, and I can vouch that it did work . . . so long as the sanctions were both “swift and certain.”

    However, what does the JRI proposal do with those offenders who are not “amenable?”

    • #11
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:45 PM PST
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  12. Michael Haugen Contributor
    Michael Haugen Post author

    Those who prove not to be amenable to diversion serve a traditional sentence, just as an offender would in the absence of JRI. Expanded use of actuarial risk-needs assessments are quite effective in distinguishing between the two groups.

    • #12
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:53 PM PST
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  13. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Dad Dog:Property crimes in California (especially home and vehicle burglaries) have exploded. From the Washington Post: A ‘virtual get-out-of-jail-free card’.

    Is this WITH GPS bracelets on the criminals?

    • #13
    • January 20, 2016, at 6:16 PM PST
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