- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A high-priority bill in Maryland’s legislative session to reduce the state’s incarcerated population and control corrections spending received wide support from members of both parties at a hearing Wednesday, after the work of a bipartisan panel that used a data-driven approach to examine the cost of recidivism in the state.

The measure, which would restructure penalties for drug possession and direct more offenders into treatment, is the result of work done over six months last year by a state panel that examined the state’s correctional system. The panel submitted about 20 recommendations that have largely been incorporated into the measure.

Chris Shank, who served as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention during the study and is now Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s deputy chief of staff, said the plan would save an estimated $247 million over 10 years and safely reduce the prison population by 14 percent.

“This is very much a team approach in terms of bringing everybody together,” Shank said of the panel that crafted recommendations for legislation.

Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, said the bill will move the state in the right direction.

“Drug treatment, rehabilitation, doing away with some of the mandatory minimums, giving judges additional discretion - all of those things, I think - will help us save money, reduce crime, reduce recidivism and keep us safe at the same time,” Frosh said.

Some of the bill’s provisions would:

-Require prompt placement in residential treatment beds of offenders found to be in need of substance abuse treatment.

-Raise the felony theft threshold and concentrate longer prison terms on higher-level theft offenders.

-Expand in-prison good behavior and program incentive credits.

-Use a risk and needs assessment tool to determine supervision levels.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger emphasized that the bill does not change how the state handles violent criminals. He said it addresses a problem with inmates serving longer sentences and failing to get parole when eligible, because they aren’t getting drug treatment due to a lack of beds. He said the measure will put the state on a path to save money by not incarcerating someone for a year - and pouring that money into treatment.

“You’re using the same amount of money to hopefully come up with a long-term solution, and this is a place where we save a tremendous amount of money,” Shellenberger said. “Maybe we never see this inmate again because we were smarter with the money that we have.”

A separate bill resulting from the panel’s work does not have the unanimous endorsement of the panel. It would increase the maximum incarceration penalty for second-degree murder from 30 years to 40 years. It also eliminates mandatory minimum sentences and reduces criminal penalties for specified offenses relating to drug distribution. The Hogan administration does not support the separate bill, Shank said.

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