Monday, June 4, 2012

Bi-Partisan Criminal Reform Efforts Take Root in Maryland

By Mellisa Coretz Goemann

While there may be gridlock in Congress, bipartisanship can still be found in many states, including Maryland. Two weeks ago, Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Earned Compliance Credit and Reinvestment Act of 2012 (HB 670/SB 691) into law.  Sponsored by Del. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Washington Counties) and Senator Christopher Shank (R-Washington County), the bill had broad bi-partisan support among legislators and activists, which included the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the Justice Policy Institute, and the American Legislative and Exchange Council.

What the Earned Compliance Credit Act does is to extend the concept of “good time credits” beyond those currently incarcerated to those individuals on probation and parole. While incarcerated, people earn credit for good behavior, which encourages such behavior and expedites their release. Increasingly, states such as Maryland are expanding this concept to provide earned compliance credits for individuals on parole or probation. These programs have proven to be a win-win for both public safety and the state coffers, which helps to create bipartisan support.

Rewarding parolees/probationers with good time credit encourages compliance and rewards good behavior, rehabilitating parolees/probationers and integrating them into society. In Nevada, which has been doing this the longest, it has resulted in increasing successful parole/probation completion rates, lowering its parole/probation populations, reducing the number of violations, and reducing its prison populations – all while Nevada’s crime rate has continued to decline. Remarkably, Nevada’s crime rate is now where it was in 1962.

Additionally, earned compliance credit for supervision helps to reduce prison populations by reducing the number of people returned to prison for technical violations, such as missed appointments with parole officers or failed drug tests. This means, over time, reducing the money a state needs to spend both on incarceration and supervision. Maryland is now spending about $1600 per month for supervision of probationers and parolees and there are currently approximately 63,800 probationers, parolees, and mandatory supervisees in Maryland. This results in a whopping $102,080,000 per month being spent on supervision. That’s a huge expense that doesn’t help make Maryland any safer.

Passing the Earned Compliance Credit Act was a positive step towards making smart criminal justice reforms on the back end of the system to encourage a successful and quicker reentry into society for those that were incarcerated and reduce the prison and supervision populations. The ACLU of Maryland is hopeful that the partnerships formed in working on this legislation and other criminal reform efforts will spur further reforms to address over incarceration in Maryland.

Melissa Coretz Goemann is the Legislative Director for the ACLU of Maryland and formerly directed the Mid-Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center focusing on juvenile justice advocacy and training.

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