In less than two years the race begins for the governor's mansion in Annapolis. Over the past seven years the candidates have made the Maryland corrections system and the criminal justice system as a whole central themes of the campaign. Will it be the same again?
During the administration of Gov. Harry Hughes, a lowering of public opinion concerning the state's corrections system has hindered efforts to improve it. With the appointment of Frank Hall, secretary of public safety and correctional services, and Arnold Hopkins, commissioner of corrections, Hughes has taken a large, progressive step. But what might happen under the next administration?
Regardless of the fact that those incarcerated by the state have committed crimes against society, they are still human beings. No matter what their sentences (other than the death penalty), these individuals at some time will again become members of society. Whether they become protive members is up to our correctional system, society and the individual. Yet for the most part in each campaign season, these individuals become pawns in Maryland's political arena and then are warehoused and stored until the next political matchup.
Voters must realize that these individuals are sons, daughters, relatives and neighbors. They must say to the politicians, "Yes, we want the criminal incarcerated for his or her crimes, but we also understand there is a need to train and educate these individuals in an effort to help them become productive members of society."
At this point, "corrections" and "rehabilitation" are not terms that really apply to Maryland's system. Warehousing has been the policy over the past several years. What is this system correcting? "Corrections" has to do with righting an error, pointing out faults and punishing. Right now we have two out of three: pointing out faults and punishing. The system will not work effectively without all three.
Correcting the error should be foremost. Once incarcerated, the individual has to have an opportunity to understand the error, to have ways to correct it, and to have a chance to visualize a new relationship to society once released. Training and education should be a part of this program. Our system does have some training and educational programs, but the number of untrained and uneducated are far greater than funds and/or programs can provide for.
Granted, rehabilitation is totally up to the individual. But we need to take that chance. If there are 10 percent who are willing to become productive members of society, then they should be provided with the opportunity.
Over the past year Hall has asked the legislature for money to start training and educational programs in the state correctional system and has pushed other programs for testing uneducated prisoners. It became mandatory this past year for all incarcerated individuals not having high school diplomas or the equivalent to participate in an educational program within the system. All of this is excellent, but what about the year after? Will the legislature continue to approve the necessary spending? Will the good policies remain intact if the next administration decides to change its personnel?
If the topic of corrections must always be subjected to political-platform considerations, let's make that platform beneficial to all concerned. Sometimes, to get a true understanding of the future it is better to tell it like it is and how it should be, rather than what may sound good and bring the best results at the polls. Something that is pleasant to the ears is not always fuel for the mind.