Shrinking Prisons

Shrinking Prisons, Growing Opportunities

Governor Larry Hogan and officials of the union for correctional officers (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) have both said it: correctional officer vacancies in Maryland prisons are rising.  At the same time, the Hogan administration plans to close and consolidate prison facilities in Baltimore and Cumberland and to make substantial staffing changes in Jessup and Hagerstown. What’s going on?

Marylanders should put this 2017 news in the context of our landmark 2016 Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA)– called “one of the most intensively researched pieces of criminal justice legislation in the state’s history” by the Annapolis Capital and “the largest, most comprehensive criminal-justice reform in Maryland in a generation” by the Governor.

JRA promotes cuts to Maryland prison populations, beginning 10/1/17, by at least 1,000 lower-risk inmates. Then, from projected savings of over $80 million over 10 years, it makes improvements to offenders’ education, job-training, drug and mental health treatment – all measures proven more effective in reducing recidivism (repeated crimes) than longer prison terms.

With smaller prison populations anticipated, the Governor and the unions both must ponder future priorities. Would it be better to hire more in-prison educators and vocational trainers than to hire more guards?  Would it save money and staffing costs to transfer soon-to-be-released prisoners to lower security and local reentry programs? Can guards be retrained to assist in re-entry or take on other roles that reduce recidivism?  If no prison units are closed, the JRA may result in savings of about $9,000 per inmate per year, according to one analysis.  If prison units can be closed, however, savings may exceed $38,000 per inmate per year.

As they do, they have the opportunity to address notable gaps, leading to savings and a more effective correctional system:

  • At the front end, Maryland’s pretrial operations still relies on money bail – a defacto discriminatory system that keeps mostly poor, African-American offenders in costly local jails, despite the fact that many states (New Jersey, Kentucky) and counties (St. Mary’s, Anne Arundel) have demonstrated savings and safety with pretrial release and supervision.
  • For some nonviolent misdemeanors, police could be given the discretion to issue more citations— comparable to traffic tickets—instead of making arrests.
  • For “technical” probation violations, Maryland judges who issue “no-bail” arrest warrants and make probationers spend months in jail — even though they have committed no new offense – should end this practice.
  • For homeless persons and mentally-ill offenders, many counties need to improve programs that provide treatment instead of jail. A 2016 study found that over 40% of Maryland jail inmates suffer from mental disorders.
  • Many elderly inmates given life sentences with the possibility of parole have been denied parole by every Maryland governor since Paris Glendening, even though the rate of new offenses for this group is lower than 1%. Due to medical costs, these inmates cost taxpayers two to three times more than any other inmates. It is time to award parole, as the judge intended, when it is safe and makes sense.
  • Finally, more attention should be paid to building effective reentry programs in every Maryland county to assist “returning citizens” to reunite with their families, to find jobs, and to avoid any more prison time.

As the JRA is implemented, Maryland has an unprecedented opportunity to improve the criminal justice system to benefit Maryland. As we rethink what we are doing together, we have the chance to take a thoughtful look at what’s working to achieve both public safety and savings.

NOTE: A retired Md. Circuit Court judge and former chair of a statewide sentencing committee, Phil Caroom writes here as a private citizen and member of the bipartisan Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (


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MAJR Plans Public Sessions

Find out what’s wrong with Maryland’s Pretrial Justice System – and how to fix it

Maryland’s General Assembly convenes 1/11/17 and with voters’ support could make a difference. Find out how about proposed changes and what you can do.

Find the list of public presentations here.

Sign our petition to reform Maryland’s Bail system:

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ABA Speaks Out

News Brief: Excessive Bail

ABA President Linda A. Klein urged the Maryland Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure to amend state court rules to reduce the use of excessive bail in pretrial detention, which often leads to continued detention of defendants before trial due to their inability to pay. Read the full report here.

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Shadow Prisons

New Southern Poverty Law Center report, Shadow Prisons Immigrant Detention in the South,  uncovers abuse and neglect at immigrant detention centers in the South. This report shows that immigrant detention centers in the South fail to ensure the rights and safety of people in their custody.

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An End to Money Bail

The Movement for Black Lives calls for an End To Money Bail, Mandatory Fines, Fees, Court Surcharges, and “Defendant Funded” Court Proceedings. See their post at:

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Shank on Criminal Justice Overhaul

ChrisShankCriminal justice overhaul will lead to better outcomes in Md.

By Christopher B. Shank
Jul 19, 2016
Being tough on crime is no longer about locking offenders up and throwing away the key. It’s about smarter, better options that reduce recidivism and help those who have served their time become law-abiding citizens. That’s why Gov. Larry Hogan championed and signed the Justice Reinvestment Act, legislation that will further reduce the state’s incarcerated population, rein in corrections spending and reinvest in strategies to increase public safety.

See full editorial in the HeraldMail.

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Repeal of Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders

How Maryland came to repeal mandatory minimums for drug offenders – The Washington Post

About 1,600 prisoners serving long sentences in Maryland will become eligible for early release in October 2017, just as the state does away with mandatory minimum prison time for newly convicted, nonviolent drug offenders.

Taken together, advocates said, the changes put Maryland at the forefront of states that are adopting major criminal-justice reform.

No longer will a person convicted of possession with intent to distribute even a small amount of drugs face an automatic prison sentence of 10 years. And hundreds of nonviolent offenders who have been given severe penalties over the past three decades will be able to appeal to a judge to get out years ahead of schedule.

Read the entire article in the Washington Post.

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Capital Gazette – April 20

Justice Reinvestment Act is a milestone

“Partisanship usually hogs the headlines, but the most important action of the 2016 General Assembly session — one that will affect the state’s criminal justice system for years, and probably for decades — had the support of both the Republican governor and the legislature’s Democratic leaders. We’re optimistic it will not only leave the system more equitable but make average Marylanders safer, while saving money now spent on excessive incarceration of nonviolent offenders.”

Read the full editorial here.

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Politics didn’t stop progress

The Baltimore Sun had the following article on April 12, 2016:

Criminal justice

“During the last year, lawmakers from both parties, the Hogan administration, Attorney General Brian Frosh, members of the judiciary and others worked with researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts to deeply analyze Maryland’s criminal justice system to determine what policies and practices were effective in increasing public safety and which ones were wasteful. As was the case in the two dozen other states that have engaged in a similar process, the group found plenty of the latter and came up with a consensus list of recommendations that Pew estimated would save about $250 million over 10 years, funds that would be reinvested in proven strategies to prevent crime and reduce recidivism. Despite some tense moments, the legislation passed. The final form is weaker than the original proposal in some ways and arguably stronger in some others. It represents a solid first step. In the years ahead, we hope Maryland’s experience with it will prove the value of the approach and give some skeptics more comfort with additional reforms.”

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Justice Reinvestment Act

Justice Reinvestment Act receives bipartisan support

Republican former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and former public safety and corrections secretary Stu Simms, a Democrat, are pushing for the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act.

Read the full report covered by WBAL-TV.

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