Parole reforms in Maryland could save millions

Focus on treatment, releasing people who are low-risk, and reducing technical violations would improve system while maintaining public safety

WASHINGTON DC—Maryland could save millions of dollars by releasing onto parole many low risk individuals – like some of the oldest members of the prison population – and by expanding parole eligibility and improving supervision, according to a report released today by the Justice Policy Institute. The report, The Release Valve: Parole in Maryland, notes that in 2007 the state spent approximately $1,422 per person on parole or probation, and $33,310 per person incarcerated. Just by paroling an additional 100 people, the report concludes, the state could potentially save approximately $3 million over the course of one year while maintaining public safety.

“At a time of budget cuts and financial crises, it is important to note that, if used correctly, parole can reduce spending without compromising public safety,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute.

According to the report, the state has made real progress in its efforts to increase drug treatment and change some parole practices. Maryland already uses effective programs like diminution, or “good-time,” credits to allow people in prison to earn earlier parole and has a policy for medical parole, but these and other proven initiatives are not being used to the fullest extent possible. Research shows that the state could expand the use of risk assessment instruments to determine those people in prison who could be placed on community supervision; since most people “age out” of crime, moving older people from prison to parole could safely result in significant savings. For example, by placing even half of the roughly 465 people in Maryland’s prisons that are over the age of 60 on parole, the state could save over $13 million in the first year.

“People can change, and that when they do, they should be given a chance to be productive members of society,” stated Walter M. Lomax, director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, which advocates for humane and sensible criminal justice and sentencing policies for individuals who are incarcerated long term in Maryland prisons. “These policies keep many people in prison, primarily African Americans, who simply do not pose a threat to society. This report is not advocating that Maryland be ‘soft on crime;’ it’s saying that Maryland can save money and do the right thing for people, their families, and their communities.”

The report also found that programs that emphasize support and service over a strict supervision modality are more effective, lowering recidivism rates for individuals in the project. Maryland’s Proactive Community Supervision project (PCS), in particular, provides tailored supervision to those in the program and participants have had fewer rearrests or drug test failures than those not in the program. Research indicates that PCS is significantly more likely to keep people out of prison than people who are released under traditional parole terms; however, to date, the state has only used PCS on a very limited basis. Bringing PCS to scale in the entire state would reducing the number of people returning to prison from parole, resulting in a potential savings of approximately $19 million, which includes the cost of enrolling everyone on probation or parole in PCS.

This state-specific report echoes many of the findings for the recently released “One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections” by the Pew Center on the States. This report indicated that 8.2% of Maryland’s general fund is spent on corrections, higher than any of its neighboring states of Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware or Pennsylvania.

“Clearly, community corrections is an important issue right now on a national level,” added Velázquez. “Maryland has an opportunity to expand on some of their early parole reform efforts and become a leader in this area.”

Other key recommendations of the report include:

Increase utilization of a risk assessment instrument: Maryland uses risk assessments in some of their decision-making processes. However, increased use for medical parole, paroling older people in prison, and discharging people from probation or parole may increase availability and lower the number of people on supervision.

Make parole services more accessible: Parole offices are often far from the homes of the people who have to check in. Not only does it become a challenge for people on parole to successfully make every appointment, the parole officers are not familiar with the particular assets, challenges, and culture of the communities in which individuals reside.

Match supervision with needs and risks: Currently, many parole officers meet with the individuals who are facing significant obstacles to re-entry for relatively infrequently and short amounts of time. Conversely, people who are successful on parole should be able to get on with their lives. Reporting for parole should be retooled so that there is more “quality time” for people who will benefit from it, and less unnecessary “face time” for those who don’t.

Institute early release for parole: Research shows that people who haven’t violated their conditions of parole for a long period of time are unlikely to commit new crimes. People on parole therefore should be able to shave time off their period of parole through good behavior and participation in education, employment, or other services. Not only would this system serve as an incentive, it would also reduce the amount of time that a person is under supervision, thus lowering costs and opportunities for a person to return to prison on a technical violation.

Involve the individual on parole: Individuals should be engaged in the creation of their supervision plans and in any process of changing their plan.

Parole boards should make evidence-based decisions: Parole boards should utilize available tools, such as risk assessment instruments, to curb their tendency to hold people in prison who could be safely paroled to the community. This would increase the number of older people and those with serious medical conditions, as well as others who are at low risk for recidivism.

Research and evaluation: If changes to parole systems are implemented, those changes must be rigorously evaluated for effectiveness and impact. In addition, more research must be done to determine which conditions of parole are related to public safety, and which merely interfere with a person on parole’s ability to live successfully in the community.

For more information on The Release Valve, contact JPI Executive Director Tracy Velázquez at 202-288-2722 or Communications Director LaWanda Johnson at 202-558-7974, ext. 308.

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