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Md. considers prison alternatives

More low-risk offenders could be released; home detention use could be expanded

More low-risk offenders could be released; home detention use could be expanded

January 24, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

With more inmates and fewer beds, the state's prison system is working on incarceration alternatives.

In a report to a state Senate subcommittee on Thursday, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard outlined some of those ideas.

The department will re-evaluate its classification system, which has a disproportionately higher than expected number of inmates designated as maximum security, Maynard said.

More low-risk offenders could be released into the community on parole.

The use of home detention could be expanded.

Maynard also mentioned the greater use of a "kiosk" system for low-risk offenders on parole or probation to check in through a computer system instead of in person.

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The average daily population in Maryland prisons has risen about 170 percent since 1980, according to a budget summary by the state Department of Legislative Services' Office of Policy Analysis.

The state prison system lost about 1,100 beds when it closed the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup last year, Maynard wrote in a letter to Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee's Public Safety, Transportation and Environment Subcommittee.

Other facilities are aging. Metal cells at the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore are "sagging under their own weight," the letter says.

DPSCS budget for 2009 to increase 9.2 percent

Maynard and other top public safety officials appeared before the subcommittee Thursday for an annual budget review. Two senators who represent Washington County - Donald F. Munson and George C. Edwards - are on the subcommittee.

The DPSCS budget for fiscal year 2009, as proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, would increase from $1.19 billion to $1.30 billion, or 9.2 percent.

The Division of Correction, the prison system, makes up almost two-thirds of the budget.

The department plans to add 195 new jobs, an increase of 1.7 percent.

Of those, 149 are in corrections.

A budget summary says the correctional jobs are connected to the opening of two more housing units at North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland.

Department officials still weren't sure Thursday if the proposed budget includes any new correctional officers for the three state prisons in Washington County.

In the Division of Parole and Probation, 52 new positions are being added as part of a supervision program for high-risk and violent offenders, the Office of Policy Analysis report says.

Report: Incarceration rate up 56 percent in 23 years

The report says that between 1983 and 2006, the state's incarceration rate went up about 56 percent for violent offenders and about 31 percent for property offenders.

Over the same period, the incarceration rate for drug offenses rose about 673 percent.

The FY 2009 budget includes about $7.5 million to fund programs that help inmates re-enter society.

"The Reentry Enforcement Services Targeting Addiction, Rehabilitation, and Treatment (RESTART) program of the past administration has been abandoned," the budget summary says.

RESTART, an initiative at Maryland Correctional Training Center, south of Hagerstown, was a point of controversy. Union representatives complained that officer positions were diverted to the program.

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