Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council Begins Work On Major Corrections Reforms

The Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC) held its first meeting on June 22, 2015, and set out an aggressive schedule to review the State’s sentencing structure and make recommendations to reduce Maryland’s prison population, improve criminal justice outcomes, and reduce needless correctional spending.  The JRCC was created by emergency legislation SB 602 (Chapter 42) of 2015.  SB 602 requires the JRCC to make its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by December 31, 2015.

The Chair of the JRCC is Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention Executive Director Christopher Shank.  Legislative members include Delegates Erek Barron, Kathleen Dumais, Michael Malone, and Geraldine Valentino Smith and Senators Michael Hough, Nathaniel McFadden, Douglas Peters, and Robert Zirkin.  Local representatives include Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry, Queen Anne’s County Department of Corrections Director LaMonte Cooke, and Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Director Robert Green.  Other members represent the Office of the Public Defender, State’s Attorneys, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Office of the Attorney General, and justice advocates.

Agenda for JRCC Meeting

Shank noted that while there has been an approximate 10% reduction in Maryland’s state prison population in the last decade, the state is still faced with significant corrections costs and a recidivism rate above 40%.  Shank noted that leaders of the General Assembly, the Administration of Governor Larry Hogan, and the Judiciary had previously sent a letter to the Public Safety Performance Project within the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) and the United States Department of Justice requesting that Pew provide the JRCC with technical assistance and data during the 2015 interim.  Pew accepted and provided data on national incarceration and recidivism rates and the efforts of other states that have recently undertaken corrections reform.  In particular, Pew focused on the reform efforts of Mississippi and Utah.

Letter to Pew Requesting Technical Assistance

Pew Presentation to JRCC

Pew representatives stated that their next step for Maryland would be to conduct: (1) a drivers analysis for Maryland to see what is driving the prison population (including admissions, duration of incarceration, and population demographics); and (2) a community corrections analysis to see what happens to offenders under community supervision.  Green asked Pew about including local jail data and Pew responded that if local jurisdictions could provide them the data, they would be happy to incorporate it into their analyses.  Berry asked if local jurisdictions in the other states that have undertaken corrections reform have also seen decreases in their jail populations  and Pew responded that the local jurisdictions in those states expressed similar concerns that inmate populations not simply be shifted from state prisons to local jails.

Coverage from a June 22, 2015, Washington Post article:

“For too many individuals, incarceration becomes a way of life, in which they flounder in a cycle of recidivism. It is clear we need a new direction in how we supervise offenders,” said Christopher B. Shank, chairman of the council and head of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. “The current revolving door of the criminal justice system is a drain on our economy. We need these individuals to be contributing members of their communities. The justice reinvestment process will ensure prison beds are reserved for the most serious criminals and low-level offenders are supervised through community-based programs that are proven to be effective.” …

Shank described the council’s work as the “most ambitious and transformative” of any commission he has seen during his 16 years in Annapolis. Maryland has a recidivism rate of 40 percent and has 20,700 offenders incarcerated.

The next meeting of the JRCC is tentatively scheduled for July 29 from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM in Annapolis. For further information about the JRCC please contact Natasha Mehu (nmehu@mdcounties.org) or Les Knapp (lknapp@mdcounties.org) at MACo.