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A negative return on investing in prisons

As executive director at Marian House in Baltimore City, a refuge for women returning to the community from prison, I read with great interest the recent Sun article "Report: Sandtown-Winchester leads state in number of people incarcerated" (Feb. 25). I've spent the last 18 years working with people from neighborhoods where hope and opportunity are rare commodities. I sometimes find myself in awe that many of these individuals have managed to survive the dire conditions in these communities. How can we expect people to thrive when they can barely survive?

According to a new study by the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative called "The Right Investment?: Corrections Spending in Baltimore City," Maryland taxpayers are spending a staggering $288 million every year to incarcerate people from these depressed neighborhoods, with little to no return on that investment. I would take that one step further and say that it provides a negative return on investment, one that exacerbates a cycle of poverty, crime, addiction and violence.

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We cannot imprison our way out of the entrenched poverty that grips certain areas of Baltimore City. Marian House provides a safe home where women can come to change their lives for the better as an alternative to incarceration. Organizations like ours focus on lifting people out of poverty and placing them in better circumstances. "The Right Investment" should be a wake-up call for all of Maryland's taxpayers and legislators. Whether your interests are in saving lives or saving money, we need stop throwing good money at systems that do not improve our communities and redirect our public investments toward eradicating the root causes of poverty in our city.

Katie Allston, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of Marian House.

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