- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

Maryland taxpayers will not pay for an Ehrlich administration plan to pay parolees not to commit crimes, a state official says.

The parolee-pay program will use only private donations and grants, and “at no point would taxpayer money be used,” said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional System.

Under the new plan, non-violent parolees and probationers would receive $10 to $25 each month they stay out of trouble. The initiative will be funded by a $50,000 grant from the Abell Foundation in Baltimore.

“If it is implemented, and if it works, it would be used as a model to pursue other viable grant funding,” Mr. Vernarelli said.

He said violent criminals will not participate in the program. Among the program’s requirements, participants will have to have sought verifiable employment at least 10 times, received a high school diploma or GED, obtained a commercial driver’s license and be drug free.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has not said how many parolees and probationers will take part in the program.

“They will not be given money,” Mr. Vernarelli said. “There will be a voucher system set up through the bank, and the bank would offer financial counseling. … Our position would be to teach [the parolees] the advantage of opening a savings program, then there would be a step process.

“This is not a short-term thing,” he said. “You cannot just say, ‘Please go get a job interview and get money.’ It goes through the chain of command and goes through two or three people to make sure the individual has earned this. It is not a mater of handing out money to people just willy-nilly. It is trying to make them responsible.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers generally have expressed support for Mr. Ehrlich’s plan to focus on rehabilitating criminals rather than jailing them, but many have said they oppose paying parolees to obey the law.

“The money would be better spent on job training and education services,” said Delegate John R. Leopold, an Anne Arundel County Republican who said he is “strongly opposed” to the initiative.

Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Anne Arundel County Republican, said, “paying someone to do what they are supposed to do, to keep out of jail anyway, just doesn’t make sense to me. Even if it works, I don’t think that it is good policy.”

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican, said drug and alcohol programs would have to be mandatory for the program to work.

The administration faces a $786 million budget deficit and has been cutting agency funds, laying off state workers and eliminating unfilled positions to balance the budget. The state spends more than $20,000 annually for each of its 30,000 prisoners, but about $1,000 a year to supervise a parolee.


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