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New state policy will send inmates home

October 15, 1998

 

Bob MaginnisThis past March, Herald-Mail reporter Brenda Kirby wrote a story about the new scrutiny being given to recently released inmates as a result of Maryland's "HotSpots" crime-prevention program. The story described a day on the job with Jackie McDonnell, a parole and probation agent visiting ex-offenders in the places where they live.

The story noted that many inmates have no real ties to the local community. They live here after their release, the story said, because they did their time at the Roxbury complex south of Hagerstown.

That got me to thinking, and about a week alter, I wrote a column that asked the question: "If an inmate is originally from Baltimore of Prince George's County, and committed his crime in one of those jurisdictions, why shouldn't they go back home after they've done their time? After all, if you read the police log and the monthly lists of drug offenders published in The Herald-Mail, we've got plenty of home-grown offenders."

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The short answer to my question, based on interviews with state officials, is that there are two kinds of inmates who get out of prisons. Those who are paroled face a great many conditions in exchange for early release. The other is the "mandatory release" inmate, someone who's done most of his sentence, minus "good time" earned by working or going to classes. Those folks are still supervised, but if they've got a verifiable home address, there's no rule that says they must have to go back home after they're released.

Until now, that is. On Friday, Oct. 9, Maryland Corrections Commissioner Richard A. Lanham Sr. sent a memo to all wardens of state correctional facilities. When it's time for a mandatory-release inmate to get out, the following things will happen:

- a bus ticket will be purchased in advance for the inmate,
- prison officials will take that person to the bus station and watch them board the bus, and
- the person must report no later than 10 a.m. the next business day to the parole and probation office in the jurisdiction where the individual was sentenced.


This last condition means that the P.G. County native who steals a car in Upper Marlboro and is sentenced there will have to report to the parole and probation office there, instead of hanging around Hagerstown.

No, it isn't a perfect solution to the problem. In answer to my question about whether an ex-offender could report to the parole office where he was sentenced, then travel back here to live, State Parole Commission Chair Patricia Cushwa said yes, that was possible.

But Cushwa, who attended a meeting on the subject here Tuesday, said state officials could make it more difficult for an out-of-area, ex-offenders to live here. One way to do that, she said, would be to increase the reporting requirements, forcing the ex-offender to visit the parole office once or twice weekly, instead of the monthly visits required now. Legislation might also be introduced, Cushwa said, which would require ex-offenders to live in the jurisdictions where they were sentenced.

The other problem - ex-offenders waiting here for clearance to return to their home states - is also undergoing study, Cushwa said. Instead of the 90-day notice that's required now, the home state will now be given notice six months prior to that inmate's release, Cushwa said, which should provide adequate time for officials there to make preparations. It might also be possible to waive the bond now required for inmates who want to return home prior to completion of an investigation, she said.

So why is this issue getting action now, since the only candidate to address it - Paul Muldowney - was defeated in the Sept. 15 primary?

Cushwa said that my column and one Muldowney wrote Sept. 6 were sent to state officials and that state Sen. Don Munson had pressed state officials to come up with some answers. And a little-known advisory group to the Hagerstown city police and fire department called the Board of Public Safety has also been pushing for some action, in the belief that ex-offenders who have no ties to this community are prone to get involved in crime again if they stay here.

This past August, J. Michael Nye, the group's chairman, wrote W. Roland Knapp, director of the division of parole and probation, complaining that the group had tried informally to set up a meeting to get answers on departmental policies to no avail. Following Tuesday's meeting, Nye said he was pleased by the change in policy.

The bottom line: Those inmates who've done their time certainly deserve the chance to rejoin society. But those whose only link to the area is the time they did in the local state prisons should head home when their time is up, a worthy goal this new policy will help make a reality.




Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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