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Finally, some attention to why ex-offenders stay here

October 06, 2006

In March of 1998, Herald-Mail reporter Brendan 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 had no real ties to the local community. They live here after their release, the story said, because they did their time at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown.

That prompted The Herald-Mail to ask this question: If inmates have no ties to this area, why don't they return to the jurisdiction where they were convicted?

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Now a state task force is looking into the issue. We advise its members not to rely on promises, but get any agreement on a new inmate- release policy in writing, preferably in the form of state legislation.

So why can't the state just force ex-offenders to leave Washington County? The answer is complicated, but it involves the fact inmates are released in two different ways.

One is "mandatory release," which means that the inmate has done all of his or her time, minus any "good time" earned for positive behavior.

The other class is "paroled." These inmates, in exchange for an early release, must agree to a number of conditions.

One of those could be where the ex-offender resides, or how often he or she reports to a certain parole office. It would seem to follow that if more ex-offenders were handled through the parole system, more could be required to return to the jurisdiction where they were convicted.

The Maryland Division of Correction did attempt to address the problem in 1998.

On Oct. 9 of that year, 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 would be purchased in advance for the inmate.

Prison officials will take that person to the bus station and watch him board the bus.

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.

The flaw in that arrangement, as officials of the state parole commission acknowledged then, was that nothing would prevent the ex-offender from returning to Hagerstown the next week.

They suggested at the time that the issue could be addressed through legislation that could require ex-offenders to report to the parole office in the area where they were convicted on a weekly basis, rather than monthly.

That would make it more difficult for someone convicted in another jurisdiction to remain in Hagerstown.

Would such a thing work? Would it be constitutional? These are questions that should have been answered years ago. We thank the task force and its Washington County members for bringing this issue back to the front burner.

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