Justice Reinvestment Group Shares Preliminary Recommendations and Potential Cost Savings

After months of extensive data gathering and weeks of subcommittee and stakeholder meetings the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council’s policy recommendations are starting to take shape and their potential cost savings projected.

On Wednesday the Council held the first of two meetings to review the subcommittees’ preliminary recommendations and compile a set of formal recommendations to be delivered in a report to the Governor by December 31, 2015.

Each subcommittee chair presented a slate of data-backed initial recommendations for the consideration of the full committee. The floor was then opened to questions and comments. In some cases the subcommittees had not reached consensus on recommendations. For those issues the Council’s Chair, Christopher Shank Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, stated that additional discussion and review of those recommendations would occur before the next and final full council meeting.

Pew research analysts estimated that if all initial recommendations were adopted, by FY 26 the number of prison beds would be reduced by 3,600 for a total cost savings of $247 million that could be reinvested into support services, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and other programs to improve criminal justice outcomes.

Some initial recommendations presented or discussed included:

Release and Reentry Subcommittee – Chair Delegate Dumais

  • Establishing an administrative parole process for lower-level nonviolent offenders to address delays and allow the parole commission to focus on the most serious and complex cases.
  • Setting the same number of diminution credits for certain drug offenders as non violent offenders and incentivizing participation in the program by providing day for day credit for offenders who participate in recidivism reduction programs.
  • Reducing the age for Geriatric Parole to 60 years or older and served 10 years or 1/3 sentence except for sex offenders
  • Altering the eligibility criteria for Medical Parole so that it is based on a permanent medical or mental health condition with two required independent evaluations
  • Allowing offenders to serve remaining portion of their time in local detention centers if the local jail is willing to accept offender and provide programming and reentry services, and the state is willing to provide a per diem for the offender.

Supervision Subcommittee –  Chair Senator Hough

  • Implementing graduated sanctions for parole and probation violations that are swift, certain and proportional for technical violations.
  • Stetting standards and limits to the time a person can be sent back to prison for technical parole and probation violations. For instance up to 15  days for the first violation, 30 days for the second, and 45 days for the third.
  • Strengthening the current system for earned compliance credits by expanding eligibility to all drug offenders and allow people who have earned enough credits to transfer to unsupervised parole and probation.
  • Allowing first time nonviolent offenders to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation completion to restore their rights to obtain professional certifications and requiring a study of the collateral consequences of incarceration.
  • Improving the collection of restitution and developing a comprehensive statewide system for restitution data.

Sentencing Subcommittee – Chair Senator Zirkin

The initial recommendations from the sentencing subcommittee generated the most controversy.

  • Two primary options were discussed for addressing mandatory minimums. Changing the presumption away from the use of them (i.e. not sentencing the mandatory minimum unless there is substantial risk to public safety). Or getting rid of mandatory minimums all together.
  • Reducing sentences for low level theft and removing enhanced penalties.
  • Requiring that upon  a judge signing an order for a  8-507 treatment beds, DHMH has 30 days to place the individual. If the individual is not place within 30 days, DHMH would have to come before the judge every 30 days the invidual hasn’t been placed in treatment, to show cause for why not.
  • Eliminating the disparity between crack and cocaine penalties.

The controversy and lack of consensus with the issues the subcommittee is grappling with generated a lot of discussion. While members agreed that something needs to be done to address these issues, there was little agreement on what to do. Proposals from this subcommittee will continue to be discussed and worked out before the next meeting.

The JRCC is charged with reviewing the State’s criminal justice structure and making recommendations to reduce Maryland’s prison population, reduce needless correctional spending, reinvest savings into more efficient programs that help improve criminal justice outcomes. The final full council meeting is scheduled for December 17, 2015 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm.

For more information read previous coverage on Conduit Street.

Additional coverage: Panel: How Md. Could Save Nearly $250 Million with Prison Reform (The Washington Post)