- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Ehrlich administration’s plan to pay parolees not to commit crimes is drawing both praise and criticism.

“If it weren’t such a serious issue, it would be funny,” said Anne McCloskey, chairman of the Maryland Coalition Against Crime. “To think that we have reached the point that anyone in their right mind thinks $25 a month is going to keep a criminal from committing a crime is ridiculous.

“The very idea of paying a criminal to do what he is supposed to do is revolting,” Miss McCloskey said. “I think those funds could be better used if it were put in potholes in the street, but paying criminals is absolutely outrageous.”

National news reports about the initiative have made Maryland “the laughingstock of the country,” Miss McCloskey said. “We are just making ourselves look very foolish.”

The initiative, which will be funded with a $50,000 grant from the Abell Foundation in Baltimore, does have its supporters.

“If some private foundation wants to help inmates, then that’s fine because the state doesn’t have the money to do that,” said Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center.

The Abell Foundation says in its mission statement that it supports nontraditional ways of solving social problems such as AIDS, hunger, homelessness, crime and drug addiction.

Donald Devine, vice president of the American Conservative Union think tank, said the idea of using private money “sounds like a good thing to me.”

The plan by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, would pay parolees and probationers not to commit crimes.

Parolees with 12 to 18 months of supervised probation remaining would receive $25 for each month they stay crime-free.

Maryland has about 4,000 parolees. State officials have not said how many of them would be eligible for the payments.

The state spends at least $23,000 a year on each of its roughly 28,000 inmates. Another 72,000 Marylanders are on parole or probation, including those arrested for drunken driving.

The Ehrlich administration has vowed to move away from minimum jail sentences, announcing last week it would spend $2 million for 210 new staffers to help rehabilitate convicts.

“If it keeps them from harming someone else and helps them live a happy, productive and law-abiding life, then the taxpayers come out way ahead on that,” said Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform division of Prison Fellowship, which urges politicians to incorporate religious values into public policy.

“We need to have a system that changes their lives as people, because giving someone $200, putting them on a bus and telling them not to come back doesn’t work,” Mr. Nolan said.

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