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Maryland prison population continues to shrink as officials consider releasing more elderly inmates

Maryland prison population continues to shrink as officials consider releasing more elderly inmates
The prison population in Maryland continues to decline as state officials consider recommendations to make it easier for elderly inmates to be granted parole. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The prison population in Maryland continues to decline as state officials consider recommendations to make it easier for elderly inmates to be granted parole.

The Maryland Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board is considering expanding eligibility for what’s called “geriatric parole" to about 265 inmates older than 60 who are suffering from illness or other complications of aging.

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Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe, a member of the oversight board, said older inmates pose almost no threat to public safety and should be released.

“This eligibility criteria is extremely conservative,” DeWolfe said. “Almost nobody is eligible now.”

The board is considering recommending legislation for expanded geriatric parole during the legislative session beginning in January.

Since Maryland passed the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2016, the state’s prison population has declined. The law was aimed at reducing the state prison population by more than 1,000 inmates while plowing millions of dollars into crime prevention.

According to data presented Tuesday to the board in Annapolis, 18,686 people were incarcerated by the state in July, down from 19,242 in October 2017— a decrease of about 3%.

Incarceration rates at local jails run by counties across the state are also decreasing, said Angelina Guarino, director of justice reinvestment for the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. The number of people locked up in local jails is down 4.6% from last year, Guarino said.

“We’re still seeing a sustained, significant impact on local detention,” she said.

Meanwhile, applications by people seeking to clear their criminal records have increased markedly, due to the act’s expanded criteria, she said. In 2018, filings to expunge records rose by about 30% from the year prior to more than 62,000. Guarino said 2019′s statistics for filings are trending even higher.

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