The Post to be congratulated for its Dec. 5 editorial "Will Maryland Unpack Its Prisons?" In concluding that "There can be no excuses for cruel and unusual punishment in the incarceration of human beings, " the editorial properly points out that many people in Maryland's prisons today more properly belong in non-incarcerative programs. In fact, fully two-thirds of the present prison population in Maryland is made up of non-violent, property offenders.
With an incarceration rate of 233 per 100,000 Maryland is the sixth highest usdr of prisons in the nation (following North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Nevada). Its courts feed black people into its prisons at a shocking rate. While 69 per 100,000 of the state's white population languish in prison, an incredible 823 of each 100,000 in the black population are locked up. Blacks make up 77 percent of the prison population in Maryland.
By increasing parole for non-violent offenders, the prison population could be reduced by 1,800. By communting sentences of prisoners within 90 days of their sentence expiration date, another 1,100 prisoners could be released, as safely as it has been accomplished in Mississipi.
Other programs, too, have proved effective in other states: One-on-one probation programs have worked well in Massachusetts (and are still much cheaper than prison); community service and restitution have worked well in Europe as well as in a few, selected states and municipalities in the United States; employment programs, such as 'supported work," offer the best promise of eliminating the causes of most crimes for which people are imprisoned (the jobless rate for black youth in Baltimore is a staggering 46.9 percent).
But most of all, what is called for is some imagination and creativity in putting back into the hands of the community its sense of responsibility, which we have all too willingly handed over to our state houses and the Congress.
With even the slightest willingness to examine other alternatives for punishing wrondoers and give up our reliance on the debilitating and costly prison experiment, we could begin to remove some of the 12,000 people in the jails and prisons of Maryland and the nearly 600,000 in similar cages throughout the country.