The Maryland legislature has taken an important step toward helping formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate successfully into society. In the final hours of the legislative session, it passed a bill that promises to reform a significant financial burden the state has placed on persons on parole.
For 20 years, the state has charged people on parole a $40 monthly fee for their supervision even though the fee is largely uncollectible. The unemployed, disabled and those enrolled in education or job training programs are supposed to be exempt. However, a 2009 Brennan Center report, Maryland's Parole Supervision Fee: A Barrier to Reentry, found that the exemption system was broken. Most persons on parole are not even aware that the exemptions exist, much less of the system for applying for one. As a result, people emerge from parole in debt and, in many cases, with bad credit.
Maryland has finally taken steps to fix this problem. A bill passed this month and awaiting the governor's signature, will ensure that persons on parole are made aware of the opportunity for an exemption and the process by which to apply for one. More will need to be done upon its passage to ensure that the process for obtaining exemptions becomes truly accessible. However, the bill marks an important first step toward fixing the broken exemption system and removing a major barrier to reentry for the thousands of people coming out of prison each year in Maryland. Read the Brennan Center's testimony in support of the bill here and the Job Opportunities Task Force’s factsheet here.
Rebekah Diller is deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. She coordinates litigation, policy research and advocacy to improve access to justice for low-income people. She has authored or co-authored five Brennan Center reports on barriers to equal justice; testified before both houses of Congress; and provided policy expertise on a number of federal and state legislative efforts. She is a frequent public speaker and media contributor on access to justice issues.