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Ex-offenders less likely to return to prison, Maryland officials say

The percentage of Maryland ex-offenders likely to return to prison within three years of release has fallen by double digits since 2000, state prison officials reported Monday.

Secretary Gary D. Maynard, the top official at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, credited the prison system's improved educational and job skills training programs, as well as stronger partnerships with state agencies that provide medical and mental health services to inmates and upon their release.

Maynard added that efforts to evaluate academic aspirations and substance abuse and behavioral treatment needs at the start of prison sentences also are paying off. He described that as "focusing on re-entry at reception."

The rate at which ex-inmates are returned to prison or put on probation for new crimes within three years of release stood at 40.5 percent in 2012, an almost 3 percent drop from the previous year and almost 11 percent lower than in 2000, when the state's recidivism rate stood at 51.4 percent, according to the latest data.

The falling recidivism rate was a positive note for the state's beleaguered corrections system, which continues to implement reforms after a federal jail smuggling and corruption investigation earlier this year that involved more than a dozen corrections officers in the Baltimore City Detention Center. The system also has seen multiple stabbings or assaults on prison officers that drew criticism from union officials who questioned safety protocols and institutional leadership.

Maryland measures recidivism in three-year increments, and the figures are based on the 11,418 total prisoners released from the corrections system in 2009. The number of prisoners released in Maryland decreased from 13,113 in 2000 to 9,682 in 2011.

The federal Bureau of Justice statistics has not studied national recidivism rates since the 1990s, and a comparable measure was not available. The Virginia Department of Corrections, which also uses three-year increments to calculate its recidivism rate, reported its most recent rate on its website at about 29 percent. In Pennsylvania, 60 percent of ex-offenders are rearrested or rejailed within three years of their release, according to a state study released this year that used figures between 2006 and 2008.

Scott H. Decker, an Arizona State University criminology professor who studies recidivism, said about two-thirds of all ex-offenders in the United States reoffend within three years. He said Maryland's approach of providing health programs has proved successful in keeping ex-offenders out of prison.

"You have people who are putting their families back together who are paying taxes, and there are all kinds of social benefits that accrue when someone stops offending," he said. "You're talking about over 1,000 people who are not in the system anymore, at least in a three-year window."

William Collins, 25, who is serving a five-year sentence in Baltimore, said the job skills programs give him a "better fighting chance" upon release. On Monday, he was studying how to charge refrigerants inside the Occupational Skills Training Center, one of several workshops the prison system uses to train inmates.

Since 2007, prison officials said, they have entered into partnerships with the departments of labor, health and natural resources to give inmates more access to drug treatment, mental health services, job training and education.

Gayle Jordan-Randolph, deputy secretary for behavioral health within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said a "data link" system between the health and corrections departments helped ensure that inmates receive adequate treatment and a "continuity of care" that extends beyond prison walls. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,100 inmates completed drug treatment programs, corrections officials said.

Leonard J. Howie III, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which runs the state's Correctional Educational Program, said more inmates get training in automotive technology, carpentry, roofing, warehousing and distribution, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Between fiscal year 2010 and 2013, 2,746 inmates have received high school diplomas and 3,419 have completed a career and technology program.

"The instruction that offenders are getting while incarcerated is truly second to none," he said.

Andre Vince, 31, who has served 12 years of a 20-year sentence, said the state's workshop and certification training gives many inmates a career focus, often for the first time, aiding them in job searches upon release.

"It's a plus to have a direction to go in," Vince said. "Why not take advantage of an opportunity?"

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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