Ex-offenders need more than bus fare

The Baltimore Sun

Try as they might, Maryland prison officials can't keep inmates from their addictions. That's keenly apparent from the drugs and paraphernalia found among the home-made weapons, cell phones and other contraband recovered in prison shakedowns. Corrections officials estimate that 80 percent of the state's 23,000 inmates have a drug problem. But the state can treat only about 3,300 inmates. That imbalance can't be overcome soon.

At the same time, untreated addictions keep prisoners at high risk of reoffending upon release. As it is, nearly 50 percent of Maryland offenders commit another crime and return to prison within three years. Addicts won't get very far on the outside without consistent follow-up services that can't be provided by parole and probation agents. The Ehrlich administration, which sought to better prepare inmates returning to the community, couldn't persuade state lawmakers to provide or expand intensive pre-release case management.

But rather than pursue that fight in Annapolis, the state is partnering with several nonprofit organizations and area foundations to help provide 250 inmates with post-treatment counseling and services upon their return to Baltimore neighborhoods. The foundations are providing the initial $2 million in funding, but the two-year project should generate enough in prison bed savings to allow the state to eventually fund the program itself.

That's a smart way to leverage private dollars for the good of the community. Skeptics may question the timing of the program, what with the recession and limited job prospects. But those realities increase the need for this effort. The economy won't keep inmates with a history of addiction from returning to their communities once they finish their sentences, but they may have a stronger hand to guide them.

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