Fewer from Baltimore go to prison, driving down number of Md. inmates

The rate at which people from Baltimore go to prison has fallen dramatically.

Far fewer people from Baltimore are going to prison each year than a decade ago, researchers reported Tuesday, driving down the numbers of people locked up in Maryland even as more criminals in the rest of the state are put behind bars.

Analysts from the Pew Charitable Trusts presented detailed data on Maryland's sprawling corrections system Tuesday to a state panel charged with finding ways to reduce the number of people in prison and cut the rate at which criminals commit new offenses.

The researchers found that the number from Baltimore entering prison each year has fallen 43 percent since 2005. At the same time, those in other Maryland jurisdictions have been sent to prison at slightly higher rates and the average term spent in prison has increased.

The effect has been a modest decline in the number of inmates in Maryland's prisons, from 22,466 in 2005 to 21,326 last year.

Crime rates in Baltimore have fallen less than the rates at which people are being sent to prison. The Pew researchers are still trying to understand the causes of the trends.

Felicity Rose, who presented the findings Tuesday, suggested that Baltimore judges' approaches toward drug offenders might have changed in recent years and police and prosecutors are bringing fewer cases.

The data show significant racial disparities in the corrections system. African-Americans are overrepresented in the prison population, the researchers found, and black criminals generally serve longer sentences than whites convicted of similar offenses.

Del. Erek L. Barron, a Prince George's County Democrat, called those figures the "most stunning" presented at the hearing.

The Pew analysts found that about one-third fewer people were on parole and probation in Baltimore than a decade ago. Former inmates in Baltimore are completing their probation successfully at a higher rate than the statewide average.

Sen. Michael J. Hough, a Republican who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, said those success rates were particularly impressive and should be studied.

"Frankly, whatever they're doing would be a model for the state," he said.

Reducing the number of inmates in prison has received bipartisan support nationwide. Proponents speak of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and the high costs of imprisoning people.

Studies have found that locking up more criminals in the 1990s had some effect on reducing crime, but that incarceration rates have risen to a point at which they no longer provide much of a boost to public safety.

The panel is chaired by Republican former state Sen. Christopher B. Shank and made up of lawmakers, law enforcement officials and judges.

The legislature gave the group until the end of the year to come up with proposals to reduce the number of people in prison and drive down the rates at which criminals re-offend, while saving money and improving public safety.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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