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More prisoners who are at low risk of re-offending should be released from jail

Liston Noble looks up at the new high-rise office buildings across the street from the Office of the Public Defender, which hadn't been built when he went to jail. Noble is one of five men sentenced to life in prison in the 1960's and '70's, but was released in the Unger case.
Liston Noble looks up at the new high-rise office buildings across the street from the Office of the Public Defender, which hadn't been built when he went to jail. Noble is one of five men sentenced to life in prison in the 1960's and '70's, but was released in the Unger case.(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

While we applaud Gov. Larry Hogan for recognizing that people can change and should be rewarded for personal transformation with the promise of release from prison, there is much work left to be done (“Maryland Gov. Hogan commutes life sentence of 'model inmate' from Baltimore who's served 47 years in killing,” April 24).

For decades, Maryland governors have been unwilling to approve parole recommendations for many individuals who could be safely released. This has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Consider the experience of the “Ungers,” a group of almost 200 people released after a court ruling from Maryland’s prisons. These people had served an average of 40 years in prison and were on average 64 years of age upon release. Since their release over the past five years, the Ungers have safely returned to their communities, and many provide mentorship and guidance to younger people to keep them out of trouble.

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That is a far better public safety strategy than warehousing people indefinitely. Crime is a young person’s endeavor. Rates of re-offending drop off dramatically after age 40. Thus, it should not be surprising that the recidivism rate of the Ungers is only 3 percent. Meanwhile, a recent analysis has found that Maryland will save $185 million because of releasing the Ungers. There are 3,000 more people still in Maryland prisons who are 50 years or older. Many of them pose the same low risk of re-offending as Calvin Ash, whom Governor Hogan ordered released, and the Ungers. Maryland could save millions more by taking a serious look at releasing this population. In doing so, Maryland can provide a national model of how to safely and smartly release people who have served long prison terms.

Ryan King

The writer is director of research and policy for The Justice Policy Institute.

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