General Assembly Passes Justice Reinvestment Act

General assembly passes bill aimed at reducing the state prison population, saving the state millions, and reinvesting savings into reducing recidivism.

Months of hard work, meetings, and data collection came to an end Monday, April 11 with the passage of SB 1005 – Justice Reinvestment Act.

The Act introduces reforms recommended by the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC). The JRCC was 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 bill makes broad changes to the state’s criminal justice system. As introduced the bill was estimated to result in a 14% decrease in the state prison population and savings of $247 million over 10 years. The exact figures for the bill as passed are not yet known.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Low-level drug offenders will be more likely to be sentenced to treatment instead of jail time
  • When offenders are sentenced to treatment, the state will have to make sure spots are available sooner, so offenders don’t get stuck in jail waiting for a treatment bed to open up.
  • Inmates convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, theft and writing bad checks will have a simpler path to seeking parole after serving 25 percent of their sentence.
  • Mandatory minimum sentences for dealing drugs, manufacturing drugs and writing bogus prescriptions are eliminated. Maximum sentences would be 20 years for first and second offenses, 25 years for a third offense and 40 years for a fourth offense.
  • The maximum sentence for misdemeanor theft is reduced from one year to six months.
  • Inmates can seek geriatric parole at age 60 instead of age 65. They must have served at least 15 years of their sentence.
  • Jail time is no longer a possibility for driving on a suspended license.
  • People on parole and probation who commit minor violations, such as failing a drug test, would face minor sanctions before jail time. Jail time for those found guilty in court of a parole violation would start at 15 days for the first offense. Judges have an option to impose longer sentences in cases where public safety would be at risk.
  • The maximum sentence for second-degree murder would be increased from 30 years to 40 years.
  • The maximum sentence for abuse that results in the death of a child would be life in prison for killing a young child and up to 40 years in prison for killing a teenager, known as “Justice’s Law.”
  • A racketeering statute would be added to state law to give police and prosecutors another option for going after gang members who deal drugs.

MACo supported the Justice Reinvestment Act with amendments. MACo endorsed the initiative, but raised concerns to ensure that it was implemented in a manner that allowed the state to reach its goals effectively without unintended costs and consequences that may undermine the benefits or shift burdens to local jails. Primarily MACo sought dedicated and reliable funds for local jails and community programs to meet the responsibilities of the Act that would be required after the bill takes effect but before any savings could be generated and reinvested locally — a narrow but critical window for local governments. MACo also sought resources for the drug treatments and assessments, per diem for state inmates receiving local jail programming.

Local concerns were also shared by the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association (MCAA) and the Maryland Association of Health Officers (MACHO). MCAA advocated technical concerns for local jails including data collection and IT requirements, inmate earnings, and additional local representation on the Oversight Board. MACHO expressed concerns about a particularly troubling amendment to the Senate bill that would have shifted the costs and responsibility for treatment services solely to local jails and health departments. MACo shared these concerns and advocated strongly during work group meetings to support amendments addressing them.

The House held robust public workgroup meetings on the House bill before it made its way to the House floor. The workgroup, which consisted of delegates from the Judiciary and Health and Government Operations Committees, held numerous meetings and allowed all interested stakeholders to provide input on the bill. At one point in session, the Senate bill hit snags on the floor amid questions of whether the amendments tacked onto the bill undermined its original intent. Ultimately the Senate bill passed unanimously.

With notable differences between the bills passed by the two chambers, the bills were sent to conference committee.

During the Conference Committee work sessions, Senate Chair Bobby Zirkin conceded that the Senate’s language mandating local funding for treatment services could come out of the final bill, but issued a comment, saying “the counties are definitely going to be part of this…the next steps are all about the counties.”

Ultimately, the conferees came to an agreement on the bill’s provisions, and with the exception of the dedicated funding all the amendments MACo sought were adopted into the final bill. The final bill passed the House 123-18 and passed the Senate 46-0.

For more information read:

Maryland Law Makers Agree on How to Reform Criminal Justice System (Baltimore Sun)

A Look at Key Provisions in Justice Reinvestment Act (Washington Post)

Previous coverage on Conduit Street:

Justice Reinvestment Act Voted Out of House

Justice Reinvestment Ball in House Court

Why “Justice Reinvestment” Might be the Biggest Issue of the Session