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Reducing murder rates requires beefing up parole agency | READER COMMENTARY

Improving the work of the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation could help Baltimore reduce its annual homicide tally. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun).
Improving the work of the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation could help Baltimore reduce its annual homicide tally. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun). (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

As a retired supervisor with the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, I am happy to read that Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson recognizes the importance of the state agency being fully engaged in any serious crime reduction initiative (”Larry Hogan criticizes Marilyn Mosby’s handling of criminal cases; Baltimore state’s attorney accuses governor of ‘political theater,’” Nov. 23). Many people know very little about my former employer, and many don’t even know what the difference is between parole and probation. Aside from general caseloads, many agents have been trained in various specialties: drug addiction, alcoholism, domestic violence, mental health, violence and pedophilia. It’s hard to believe that this agency is one of the largest in the country as Maryland is not a large state. Most states have municipal and county probation departments ,while the state handles parole cases.

In Maryland, agents supervise District Court and Circuit Court statewide. If a Baltimore person is placed on probation in Ocean City, he or she will be supervised in Baltimore, with the agent advising the Eastern Shore judge of any supervision problems. In addition to parole, District Court and Circuit Court case agents supervise mandatory release cases. These are cases in which the offender has not been approved for parole or has a short sentence. The agency collects fines, costs, restitution and supervision fees. Agents also must monitor compliance with special conditions including drug, alcohol and mental health treatment. If a probationer is court ordered to stay away from a certain location or person and violates this requirement the court or parole commission must be notified. If a Marylander commits an offense in another state and is placed on probation or parole, a Maryland agent will conduct a home and employment investigation and make a recommendation as to whether or not to accept this case for supervision in Maryland. People from other states may request transfer for other reasons. Agents receive calls from victims who are entitled to restitution or have other concerns about an offender. Many agents are investigators and perform pre-sentence and pardon investigations.

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As previously noted, Maryland Parole and Probation is a very large agency. Maryland had many county probation departments but all were merged over time into one very large agency, and the Division of Parole and Probation assumed the status of a long neglected poor stepchild in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, where the Maryland State Police and and the Division of Correctional Services have always had a significantly higher priority. The fact that the agency employed a very large number of parole and probation agents meant that any pay increase became a big ticket item in the budget and was kicked down the road for many years. Employees of the agency were paid significantly lower than peers in other states. Maryland simply did not want to increase our salaries. After organizing and lobbying and with the help AFSCME, a long-overdue raise was approved many years ago. It’s time to revisit this issue. Agents need to be compensated for performing these public safety functions.

Additionally, caseload sizes need to be reduced in order for meaningful supervision to be conducted. We know how important classroom size is for education. Parole and Probation agents need more time to spend on each case. We are seeing that more offenders require more intensive supervision for a whole host of reasons. Families that had little need for services for family members now find that members of their families need greater services in order to achieve a normal status. Gov. Larry Hogan claims to be concerned about crime, and now we know that Democratic leadership is on board. This will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. Some services have been underfunded for many years. We are all paying the price.

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I hope that Senate President Ferguson and other leaders will focus on this issue of how we deal with offenders and their multiple issues and problems. We need to focus on keeping our communities safe from offenders who create chaos as well as those who are just getting started and have little or no family or neighborhood support. We need a solid commitment from all disciplines in order to deal with the growing problem of very serious crime.

Edward McCarey McDonnell, Baltimore

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