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Maryland should revive anti-recidivism program

How can Maryland afford to end Public Safety Compact that has dramatically driven down recidivism rates?

In his commentary ("Investing in communities rather than prisons," Oct. 1), Marc Schindler wrote that Maryland legislators and Gov. Larry Hogan supported legislation that led to the creation of Maryland's Justice Reinvestment Council (JRC). The main goal of the JRC is to study how Maryland spends its corrections funds and the results we get. It is also looking for effective strategies to increase public safety and to reduce recidivism.

There is a strategy already in place that has assisted almost 600 formerly incarcerated individuals by reducing their time spent behind bars, helping them find employment and assisting them to become stable in the community (Baltimore City). It is saving the state money through earlier and safer release. It is estimated that 73 percent of returning citizens to Baltimore City re-offend within three years of release. The recidivism rate for graduates of the Public Safety Compact is drastically less, between 6.5 percent and 9 percent, three years post-release. This strategy, the PSC, has proven to be very successful. It is a collaboration between Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the non-profit sector. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in Annapolis have decided to end this successful reinvestment strategy as of Oct. 31.

Individuals approved by the state's parole commission for this initiative are predominantly non-violent offenders with drug-related charges. In order to be considered for PSC, inmates are required to meet certain eligibility requirements including completing a drug treatment program "behind the wall," have an approved home plan in Baltimore City and agree to case management through PSC for at least one year. During this year, they are provided services and support to help them become stable in the community, including drug treatment, transportation assistance, employment readiness, mentoring, intense parole supervision, etc. At the same time, they are not being housed, fed and clothed in a state institution, they are not being provided medical or mental health care and a myriad of other needs supplied and paid for by the taxpayers of Maryland.

For more than five years, this strategy has succeeded in helping numerous returning citizens turn their lives around. Why then has the state decided that as of Nov. 1, there will be no more Public Safety Compact? Inmates will serve more time in prison using more state funds, many without the mandatory drug treatment that is currently required by the PSC. They will be released into the community, many without the support needed to make it. It is an unfortunate reality that many will revert to what they were doing before they were incarcerated in order to just survive on the outside. And the revolving door keeps rotating!

One more comment. I notice that the list of members of the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council includes a number of elected officials, several judges, a state's attorney, representatives from Parole and Probation, Juvenile Services, etc. It includes not one representative from an organization that is currently working with this population post-release doing precisely what they are studying. Input from these direct-service organizations (people working at "ground zero" of this issue) would be invaluable.

We need more strategies like the Public Safety Compact, not fewer.

Charlene Knott, Parkton

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