Maryland Prisons To Shift From Get-Tough To Rehab


The administration of Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich will shift its incarceration strategy toward rehabilitation, pushing programs to educate inmates and improve their behavior.

The Baltimore Sun says that with the state facing a revenue shortfall, all but $2 million of the cost would be paid by juggling the correctional payroll over three years, filling an expected 218 correctional officer vacancies with 210 teachers, counselors and social workers.

“To my mind, if we don’t go in this direction then we are just wasting our money in cycling these [inmates] through,” state correctional Secretary Mary Ann Saar said. “My wardens are all saying this is the way to go.” About half of the state’s freed prisoners end up back behind bars within three years, a problem magnified by the rapid growth in inmate populations. Last year, the state released about 15,000 inmates, almost double the number from 1990; the state’s prison population is about 28,000.

By the end of the program’s three-year phase-in, Saar said, the state would offer an additional 4,600 openings each year for education, job training and substance abuse treatment. The program’s most innovative aspect would be 5,220 openings each year in a new behavior modification program, a 12-week course teaching prisoners to deal with conflict and real-life problems – the very sorts of situations in which they might commit another crime.

Such programs have a proven track record of success, said Paul Gendreau of the University of New Brunswick in Canada. “Any investment in [retraining] programs are good investments,” Gendreau said. “But the better ones focus on behavior modification.” A new study he co-authored, looking mostly at U.S. prison populations, found that behavior modification programs reduced the rate of repeat offenders by 15 percentage points. They also reduced cases of prison misconduct by a fourth.

The proposal is a shift from the get-tough philosophy that has dominated correctional programs. It bucks a national trend in which many states are cutting rehabilitation for budgetary reasons. Saar has said that she wants the state to tear down the $21 million- and not yet 15-year-old-Supermax prison in Baltimore that keeps inmates confined to cells 23 hours a day and is short on space for training and education.

An Associated Press roundup says that other states are taking action similar to Maryland’s Quoting the Vera Institute of Justice, AP says Kansas earmarked $6.6 million to increase inmate counseling and rehabilitation, and seven states, including Texas, Louisiana and Oregon, reduced sentences and repealed mandatory minimum terms passed in the 1980s and ’90s. The “get smart” approach to crime is being driven in part by the budgetary bottom line, says Steve Crawford of the National Governors Association.


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