- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Nonviolent offenders in Maryland will be able to cut their time under the supervision of a probation or parole officer with good behavior, as the state joins several others that have adopted the policy as a way to cut administrative costs.

A law that went into effect Tuesday allows offenders to shave off as much as two-thirds of their time under supervision by staying out of trouble and satisfying the conditions of their punishment.

Despite arguments from some critics that the law is too soft on crime, supporters say it could ease the burden on overworked probation and parole officers, give the convicted an incentive to stay out of trouble and save the state millions in supervision costs.

“The type of criminal that we’re trying to get at is the low-risk offenders who are being released from prison, who are keeping their nose clean, paying their bills, paying their fines at that sort of thing,” bill sponsor Sen. Christopher B. Shank, Washington Republican, said last year.

The law, which passed the General Assembly last year with bipartisan support, would not reduce a person’s actual time on parole or probation but would allow them to cut the length of time during which they are under state supervision.

Each 30 days of good behavior would be rewarded with as much as a 20-day reduction in the supervision period. The law excludes anyone on probation or parole as the result of a violent crime, sex offense or certain drug offenses.

Similar systems are in place in Arizona and Nevada, where local officials say that parole and probation credits for less-serious offenders have allowed supervising officers to focus more of their time on offenders more likely to violate the terms of their release or probation.

In 2008, Arizona began allowing 20 days off for every 30 days served, and by 2010 state officials said the law helped to decrease repeat felonies by 31 percent and overall probation revocations by 29 percent.

“This really provides a good way to prioritize those who have committed more-serious offenses and have more problems following supervision directives,” Melissa Goemann, then the legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland told The Frederick News-Post last year.

While proponents in Maryland say the law could serve as an incentive for good behavior, they say the larger issue is that about 64,000 people in the state are on parole or probation and are supervised by just 340 supervising officers, with each case costing the state an average of $1,600 a month.

The 188-to-1 ratio of cases to caseworkers is far above the recommended ration of 30-to-1 or 40-to-1 for violent criminals and sex offenders and 100-to-1 for other cases.

Maryland Delegate Patrick L. McDonough was an outspoken critic of the bill last spring, calling it a “radical” quick fix aimed at soothing the state’s fiscal woes at the expense of public safety.

Mr. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, argued that the proposal would lead to many offenders being turned loose prematurely, and that the state could avoid such a move by trimming expenses elsewhere and hiring more caseworkers.

He also contended that judges and state officials already have the power to reduce supervision time if they see fit, and that such decisions shouldn’t be taken out of their hands.

“I believe there is room for rehabilitation [but] this is another in the incremental march against public safety,” he said at the time. “We’re not saving money, and we are putting people in harm’s way.”