Pew Applauds Maryland Leaders for Sentencing and Corrections Reforms

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Pew Applauds Maryland Leaders for Sentencing and Corrections Reforms

WASHINGTON—Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) signed into law a comprehensive package of criminal justice legislation today to enhance public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs. The new law restructures sentences for low-level property and drug offenders and provides effective sanctions and incentives to help keep offenders on probation and parole crime- and drug-free.

The Justice Reinvestment Act is projected to reduce Maryland’s prison population by nearly 1,200 inmates within 10 years, freeing up $80.5 million for investment in programs to reduce recidivism rates, treat substance abuse, and enhance community supervision practices.

“The law is a landmark achievement for Maryland’s criminal justice system,” said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project. “It reflects a carefully crafted bipartisan consensus on how to improve the public safety returns from the large sum the state spends every year on corrections.”

The new law is based on policy recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, which engaged in a comprehensive study of Maryland’s sentencing and corrections systems. With technical assistance from Pew, the council analyzed data, evaluated policies and programs in Maryland and other states, and reviewed research on reducing recidivism. In December the council issued a report with its findings and a wide-ranging set of policy recommendations, which formed the basis of the Justice Reinvestment Act.

The council found that over the past decade, Maryland achieved large declines in violent and property crime rates along with modest reductions in the state prison population. However, the state still incarcerated more than 20,000 offenders in 2014, costing taxpayers $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, critical recidivism reduction investments such as specialty courts, drug treatment, and re-entry programs were underfunded.

To address these findings, the law:  

  • Prioritizes prison space for serious and violent offenders, raises the dollar threshold at which theft offenses are prosecuted as felonies, eliminates mandatory minimums for those who sell or intend to sell or distribute drugs, and makes other sentencing changes.
  • Strengthens probation and parole by offering reductions to supervision terms for offenders who comply with the conditions of their release; authorizes swift, certain, and proportional sanctions for offenders who break the rules; and caps the amount of time technical violators can spend in prison while maintaining judges’ discretion in cases involving public safety risks.
  • Improves and enhances release and re-entry practices by instituting comprehensive case planning, streamlining parole practices, and expanding geriatric parole to inmates 60 and older.
  • Supports local corrections systems by funding recidivism-reduction programs, makes driving with a suspended license punishable with only a fine, and increases earned-time credits available to inmates in local detention centers to match those offered in state facilities.
  • Establishes an oversight board to monitor implementation, ensures accountability among state and local facilities by requiring them to collect and report data, and authorizes studies to further improve corrections.

Before passage of the bill, Maryland’s prison population was projected to grow by 6 percent over the next 10 years, but when fully implemented the reform package should prevent all of that projected growth and provide a better return on investment for state taxpayers.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership between Pew and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, has assisted, in addition to Maryland, more than two dozen states, including Georgia, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah, with similar data-driven analyses and consensus-based policy recommendations.

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