Justice reform in Maryland has reached a critical moment. The Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA) being considered this session is likely the most significant criminal justice bill that has been considered in Maryland in years. The bill, without drastic Senate revisions that severely weakened the legislation, would be the most sweeping and meaningful justice reform effort in Maryland in recent memory, projected to reduce the prison population by 14% and save the state a quarter of a billion dollars over 10 years. In contrast, the House, through a series of work group meetings, executed a methodical, bipartisan process, resulting in a robust proposal for reform of the criminal justice system that promises to reduce recidivism, enhance public safety, and significantly reduce costs.
Based off an assessment by researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts, who staffed the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC), the Senate bill has been substantially weakened, and the amended bill will result in a savings of only $34 million over the next 10 years. The original projection, prior to the Senate’s action, would have realized a savings of close to $250 million over 10 years, by safely reducing the prison population and associated cost. The House bill is a much stronger package that adheres to the spirit and intent of the original bill with broad bipartisan support. Now that the bills have cleared the House and Senate, it is imperative that lawmakers work from the House version of the bill as they go into conference to reconcile differences. Unfortunately, the Senate “gutted” the bill, but the House made measured adjustments that take all stakeholder concerns into account.
We urge Maryland lawmakers to take a reinvestment approach to reducing the number of people in jail and prison by redirecting money that would have otherwise been spent on incarceration to communities that are most impacted by the justice system. By making coordinated, focused, and sustained investments in Maryland’s communities, lawmakers will make communities safer and support lasting reductions in incarceration and justice system involvement.