Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council Reviews Prison Admission and Sentencing Data

The Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC) heard about incarceration and prison population data at its second meeting on July 29, 2015.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, the JRCC is reviewing the State’s sentencing structure and will be making recommendations to reduce Maryland’s prison population, improve criminal justice outcomes, and reduce needless correctional spending.

Analysts from the Public Safety Performance Project within the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) presented the data.  This article summarizes a few key points from Pew’s presentation.  For their year data snapshots, Pew looked at data from FY 2014.  For their decade/long term data snapshots, Pew included data from FY 2005 to FY 2014.

Prison Admissions

Both Maryland crime rates (including violent and nonviolent crimes) and prison admissions have declined over the last decade.  In FY 2014 58% of admissions were for nonviolent crimes.  The decline in newly sentenced prisoners is due almost entirely to a drop in admissions for drug violations.  However, possession of narcotics with intent to distribute (Pew was unclear if the data included marijuana) was the top offense for incoming prisoners.

Looking more regionally, admissions from Baltimore City declined 43% over the last decade (helping to drive down the state’s admissions decline) but increased 4% in all other counties.  Criminal cases in the circuit courts were down 35% in the City but up 34% in the rest of the State over the decade.

Pew also found a disparity among sentencing length among the circuit courts for nonviolent offenders with a 30 month difference between the strictest and most lenient circuits.  Overall, sentence lengths for new prisoners has increased 25% over the last decade.

Time Served in Prisons

The majority of drug offenders are paroled (56%) but other new commitments are more likely to stay through their entire sentence length.  For example, only 1/3 to 1/2 of property offenders are paroled.

Statewide, the amount of prison time served for all offense types has increased by 23% from 29 months to 36 months over the last decade.  This is reflected in all circuit courts except the first circuit, where time served decreased by 1%.

Pew noted that nonviolent offenders released on parole typically serve 40% of their sentence even thought they are eligible for parole after serving 25% of their sentence. Drug offenders serve 53% of their sentence on average. Parolees serve an average of 9 months past their eligibility date, costing the prison system 1,600 beds a year.

Prison Population

Pew found that the number of prisoners older than 55 has doubled in the last decade from 961 to 1,875, leading to increased health care costs.  African Americans remain overrepresented in the prison population, comprising 70%.  Revocations for parole, probation, or mandatory supervision take up 37% of prison beds, mostly from probation revocations.

Sixty five percent of prisoners are in for “person crimes” (murder, rape, assault) while drug crimes account for 19% of the population.  Drug crime prisoners fell by 40% over the last decade but every other offense category increased over the same time period.

Regionally, Baltimore City and Baltimore County are the largest contributors to the state prison population while Kent and Garrett Counties contribute the least.

MACo representative and Queen Anne’s County Department of Corrections Director LaMonte Cooke expressed concern about people being sentenced to local jails for more than the prescribed 18 month limit. The Pew analyst indicated that Pew will be presenting sentencing disposition and parole and probation information at the next JRCC meeting.

The JRCC’s next scheduled meeting will be on August 18.  The JRCC is also planning on holding two stakeholder meetings later in the year to get feedback on the JRCC’s findings and recommendations.

The 2015 MACo Summer Conference will feature more information about justice reform and police issues.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

For a schedule of educational sessions at MACo’s Summer Conference, please view the Registration Brochure.

Questions? Contact Meetings & Events Director Virginia White.