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Shank lobbies for parole, probation bills

February 24, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, pitched a two-part idea for criminal justice reform on Thursday to a Senate committee.

Shank and Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, are pushing for measures they say could make the prison system fairer and less crowded and help cut crime.

One bill would set up a pilot program to assess prisoners' risks and needs to lessen their likelihood of committing new crimes after they're released.

A second bill would create a new system of graduated sanctions for technical parole and probation violations, letting the state impose fast but fair sanctions administratively. There also would be rewards for good behavior.

The bills have wide-ranging support, from Americans for Tax Reform and the American Legislative Exchange Council on the right, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland on the left.

Shank has said conservatives have realized that pouring money into corrections without accountability isn't working.

"We spend over a billion dollars in locking people up in the state of Maryland, with a recidivism rate of over 50 percent," he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., organization, estimates that the policies in the recidivism bill could have led to about 1,300 fewer incarcerations and a net savings of about $19 million, based on 2007 figures.

Shank said similar programs have succeeded in other states, with fewer offenders re-arrested and big savings created.

The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said in written testimony that it opposes both bills.

One statement said the department would have to create a new position of "chief supervision officer" for the graduated sanctions system and would have to hire at least 11 new employees.

Also, the Division of Parole and Probation would need a new unit of employees to review the files of inmates scheduled to be released or paroled, the department wrote.

An analysis by the state Department of Legislative Services said five new employees needed to oversee the recidivism pilot program would cost about $391,000 in salaries, benefits and operating expenses.

The cost of the 11 new employees for the sanctions pilot program would be about $973,000, a Department of Legislative Services analysis said.

Shank disputed both calculations, saying the programs could be done with existing employees. He said he will work on amendments that will reduce the cost to zero.

"We could eliminate that with the stroke of a pen," he said.

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