The Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council was formed through legislation sponsored earlier this year by Senate President Thomas Mike V. Miller (D-Calvert) to find ways to help offenders re-enter society more successfully and ultimately reduce recidivism and the prison population.
The council will provide recommendations to the General Assembly in December.
Members of the council have been meeting in subgroups over the last several weeks to dig deeper into data provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts on Maryland’s current prison population, its recidivism rates and best practices in states that have taken similar approaches to reducing their prison population.
The panel’s work has bipartisan support, but it is still likely to endure fierce debate next year, when the General Assembly takes up legislative recommendations.
One subgroup met late Monday afternoon to discuss what type of violations should warrant an offender to return to prison and what type of discretion should be given to judges.
“We just have to figure out a way to get the numbers down to get a cost savings,” said Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick), a member of the council who led the supervision subgroup.
The money saved from such an effort would likely be redirected into drug treatment and mental health programs in the community. How the money is directed is also something the panel plans to recommend to the legislature, Hough said.
Judy Sachwald, the director of Parole and Probation, said probation agents need flexibility. For example, she said an offender who fails a drug test may not warrant a revocation.
“Relapse is a part of recovery,” Sachwald said, noting that a person who may have a long stretch of “being clean and being compliant” might relapse and need drug treatment rather than incarceration.
The council is also looking more closely at the conditions for receiving geriatric parole or medical parole.
After hearing about inmates who applied for medical parole but died before the process was completed, Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) said during a session Tuesday morning that the panel will consider whether changes need to be made to the process.
Council member Robert L. Green, the director of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Montgomery County, said he would expect the state to save a lot of money if more inmates were released on medical parole.