In Maryland, like many other states across the country, corrections spending has been continuously climbing over the past few decades. On average it is fourth in state spending after only education, transportation, and Medicaid. Several proposed bills are attempting to tame this spending by making changes that would send fewer to prison.
The incarceration rate has tripled since 1980. In 2009, Maryland spent $1.4 billion on corrections. This is an alarming amount of money, something that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle would like to remedy. For that reason, many of the proposed bills were drafted by a bipartisan group.
Here’s a quick rundown of the proposed legislation to change Maryland criminal laws and charges that affect the criminal justice system:
SB 172 would give the parole commission final say on the choice to parole people serving life sentences. This was written specifically to remove the governor from the decision making process, “depoliticizing” the parole decisions. It doesn’t apply to those who were sentenced to “life without parole” and is being promoted as a worthwhile especially in cases where inmates are ill or elderly.
HB 1248 would allow parolees to reduce the time of supervision by satisfying all of the requirements of their parole. In other words, if they satisfied the conditions and followed the rules, they could be granted release from parole before the original sentence dictated.
HB 964/ SB 583 is a bill designed to establish the Recidivism Reduction Pilot Program. This program would use risk assessment tools and targeted staff training to focus effort on keeping people from reoffending. It would help probation/parole in determining who needed the greatest supervision.
SB 801/ HB 919 would change the options available to the courts and probation/parole officers when an offender violates the terms of their supervision. It would allow for incarceration for those most serious of violations and a graduated response for lesser violations.
HB 353 is designed to repeal some of the more harsh mandatory minimum sentences on drug related offenses, reestablishing judicial discretion in such cases and making more appropriate sentences available.
Finally, HB 606 would decriminalize marijuana. Less than 28.5 grams would be considered an infraction rather than a crime. This would result in a civil fine and not a court date and certainly not an arrest and unnecessary burden on the jail, courts, and taxpayers.
All of these bills are progressive pieces of legislation that wouldn’t only reduce costs; they would establish more integrity into the state criminal justice system. They are all supported by the ACLU among other prominent groups.