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City health director critical of decision to end prisoner drug treatment, anti-recidivism initiative

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen on Friday spoke out against the end of a 5-year-old program that has helped people leave Maryland prisons early and enter drug treatment.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen on Friday spoke out against the end of a 5-year-old program that has helped people leave Maryland prisons early and enter drug treatment.

The Public Safety Compact, which started as a partnership between the state correctional system and Baltimore nonprofits, uses money saved on incarceration costs to help parolees find jobs and stay sober.

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In a statement Friday, Wen said the city health department is "deeply concerned about and disappointed by the state's decision to end the Public Safety Compact program."

Many agree the program has helped lower recidivism and save money; but it's ending because state officials determined it runs afoul of state procurement guidelines. They decided not to extend a contract between the corrections department and the nonprofit Safe and Sound Campaign, which administers the program. The contract ends Saturday.

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Wen urged state officials to reconsider giving up on a program that she said is "giving our most vulnerable citizens a stronger second chance and supporting successful reentry into society."

"In our city, eight out of 10 who are in jail use illegal substances; four out of 10 have a diagnosed mental illness," Wen said in the statement. "We need to be doing more to support this population, not less. We need to expand medical treatment, not incarceration. We need to recognize and treat drug addiction as a disease.

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