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The House of Delegates is on track to debate a major shift in the criminal justice system at the end of the week.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 17-3 on Wednesday to advance the Justice Reinvestment Act. A vote in the House Health and Government Operations Committee, which also is considering the bill, is expected on Thursday.

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The bill pushes more low-level drug offenders into treatment, allows more people to expunge convictions from their records, lets some offenders out sooner and reduces the time that parole violators spend behind bars. The term "reinvestment" refers to the goal of saving money by incarcerating fewer people and plowing the money into drug treatment and crime prevention.

"It's a change in the paradigm," said Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat who is vice chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee. She has been leading the House's deliberations on the bill, including several hours' worth of meetings of both committees this week.

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Following the Health and Government Operations Committee's vote, the full House of Delegates could begin debate on the bill Thursday night or Friday.

The bill ultimately is destined for a conference committee because the Senate passed a version of the bill that differs on several key details. Some advocates for criminal justice reform have said the Senate version won't result in significant savings that were envisioned.

The House version incorporates a proposal from Gov. Larry Hogan to create a racketeering statute that can be used to prosecute gangs that distribute drugs. The racketeering law was introduced as its own bill, but has not advanced in either chamber.

The House version also has different details on when judges can opt out of new, shorter sentences for parole violators in cases where they think the offender is a threat to public safety or their victim.

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The House also included several details that were removed from the Senate version: allowing inmates as young as 60 to seek geriatric parole in certain circumstances, removing the possibility of jail time for driving on a suspended license and repealing more mandatory minimum sentences.

The House version does not include lengthening the maximum sentences for kidnapping and second-degree murder, which were added to the Senate version at the behest of prosecutors.

The House and Senate must work out any differences between their bills before sending a version to the governor's desk. Hogan has indicated he's supportive of the concept of justice reinvestment. The major elements of the bill came from the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, which was chaired by Hogan's top criminal justice advisor, Christopher B. Shank.

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