- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

State lawmakers have criticized part of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s plan to improve the state’s failing prison system.

While Republican and Democrats backed the three-year plan by Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, to hire 210 rehabilitation staffers, most oppose paying paroled prisoners for reporting on time to probation and parole officers.

“I support the governor’s position,” said Delegate John R. Leopold, Anne Arundel Republican, though he “strongly opposed” paying paroled prisoners.

The $25-a-month stipends will be paid through a $50,000 grant from Abell Foundation in Baltimore.

“The money would be better spent on job training and education services,” Mr. Leopold said.

Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican, also supports the administration’s efforts to emphasize rehabilitation over jail time, but disagreed with paying former inmates.

“Parole means you would be in jail, but you have been given the opportunity to leave jail,” he said. “Paying someone to do what they are suppose 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.”

Mr. McMillan said he opposes the plan, though notaxpayer money will be spent.”The incentive for a parolee is freedom,” he said. “If being a productive member of society is not an adequate enough motivation for a parolee to comply with the terms of their parole, then they need to go back to jail.”

A recent report found that 50 percent of Maryland inmates return to crime after prison. So a plan to reduce recidivism is “certainly worth trying,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat.

“We have been following the motto of just locking people up for the last decade,” he said. “All we have proved is that it is very expensive.”

Mr. Frosh said he wanted to take a closer look at paying paroled prisoners before he comments.

The administration faces a $786 million budget shortfall and has been cutting agency budgets to improve the situation, which has been resulting in layoffs and the elimination of unfilled positions. The state spends more than $20,000 annually for each of its roughly 30,000 prisoners, compared to about $1,000 a year to supervise a paroled prisoner.

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican, said statistics show the plan works and that he supports the governor’s efforts, though he has some suggestions.

“I think the drug and alcohol programs would have to be mandatory for prisoners with these problems,” Mr. Colburn said. “The bottom line is whether those prisoners truly want to recover. About 95 percent of all inmates will return to society. We need to best prepare that inmate to return to society, then everyone will benefit.”

He questioned the rationale behind paying paroled prisoners.

“I would be concerned about paying people to do the right thing,” Mr. Colburn said. “I doubt that $25 a month will be incentive enough for anybody to do the right thing.”

Abell Foundation officials have not responded to requests for comment since The Washington Times reported the story last week.

The program is expected to start with prisoners from West Baltimore who have less than two years of supervision remaining.

Maryland currently spends $588 million on its corrections system, said a Department of Corrections spokeswoman. The administration’s plan to hire the 210 new teachers, case managers, social workers, substance-abuse counselors and transitions coordinators would increase department spending by about $2 million.

Mr. Ehrlich has said his “vision” to refocus state efforts on rehabilitation started before the recent trend in which 25 other states have revised their mandatory-sentencing policies to reduce state budgets and avoid tax increases.

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