The governor handed out almost $655,000 in grants to 10 counties and Baltimore yesterday so they can begin or expand community service programs for nonviolent offenders.
With such programs in place, supporters said, judges will be able to sentence more offenders to community service instead of putting them in jail or on probation.
That could free up some jail beds and probation agents for more serious offenders. "I see this as a prevention measure so a first-time offender can learn something," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said at an awards ceremony in Annapolis.
He cautioned that the court-ordered community service program won't work unless officials supervise the offenders. Supervision would involve checking the backgrounds of offenders and making sure that they actually perform the required hours of service, spokesmen said.
In Baltimore, offenders sentenced to community service paint, do carpentry and work for charities throughout the city.
"We haven't had a lot of people going out and committing other crimes," said Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge for the city's Circuit Court. He helped accept a $67,158 grant for the city.
Baltimore County received $50,646 for an automated tracking system; Carroll County got $18,000 for a van; Frederick County won $12,370 for computers.
W. Roland Knapp, acting director of Maryland's parole and probation division, said he hopes community service will be considered as a "stand-alone" sanction that does not necessarily require a probation agent's services.
Some judges also put offenders on probation just so someone will make sure they perform community service, explained Katherine Jones, manager of the division's court-ordered community service program.
But with the grants, she said, program administrators could find ways of supervising people on court-ordered community service without involving probation agents.
That would free up probation agents to spend more time with "higher-risk offenders who we feel present a greater public safety risk," Ms. Jones said.
Maryland's 600 parole and probation agents have among the highest caseloads in the nation. They spend less time with offenders than agents in some states where caseloads are not as high.
Several Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and suburban Washington counties also won grants. Allegany got $46,980, Montgomery $52,321, Prince George's $171,271, Queen Anne's $37,725 and Talbot $74,474. Wicomico and Dorchester counties shared $142,705.