- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Ehrlich administration has dropped a plan that would have paid parolees not to commit crimes.

“We took [the plan] off the table because it just wasn’t worth our people’s time,” said Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Mrs. Saar told The Washington Times yesterday that the plan to use private donations to pay about 500 nonviolent parolees and probationers $10 to $25 each month to stay out of trouble was discontinued last month.

The decision follows a recent Times story in which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, dismissed the plan and said it was not his idea.

“I will look at the results, but I am not enthusiastic about it,” he said.

The parolees would have been paid through a $50,000 grant from the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation.

Judith Sachwald, director of the state’s parole and probation department, said administration officials did not accept the money because “we couldn’t come up with a project we could manage.”

She said state officials were concerned that rewarding a small number of parolees would cause resentment among those who were not included. Mrs. Sachwald said the plan also failed because there was no money to hire support staff or a consultant to conduct research on whether it was working.

Republican lawmakers praised the decision to cancel the plan.

“I am very pleased with the administration’s decision,” Delegate Herbert H. McMillan of Anne Arundel said yesterday. “With this change we have a corrections policy that is fair, pragmatic, compassionate and a true reflection of Governor Ehrlich’s values.”

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican, said yesterday he “stood by his earlier statement” that the program would not have worked without drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation programs.

The pilot program was designed to run 12 to 18 months and would have included no state money.

To qualify, participants needed to have sought verifiable employment at least 10 times, had a high-school diploma or general equivalency diploma, obtained a commercial driver’s license and remained drug-free.

Those who fulfilled the qualifications and committed no crimes would have received vouchers redeemable through a bank that also would have offered financial counseling. Officials never publicly named the bank that would have been used.

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

The plan also had drawn criticism from victim rights groups.

Anne McCloskey, chairman of the Maryland Coalition Against Crime, said earlier that the proposal made Maryland the “laughingstock of the country.”

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

Mrs. Saar said the scrutiny from fellow Republicans and community activists did not force the governor to halt the plan.

Mr. Ehrlich “does not micromanage what we do,” Mrs. Saar said.

The state spends at least $23,000 a year on each of its roughly 28,000 inmates. Another 72,000 Marylanders are either on parole or probation, including those arrested for drunken driving. The state spends about $1,000 a year to supervise each of those parolees.

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

Mrs. Sachwald doubted whether additional private money would resurrect the plan to pay parolees.

“Given the amount of time and effort it would take, I think at this stage we are ready to move on,” she said. “We are going to look at other approaches for providing positive reinforcement, but I don’t think it will be cash rewards.”

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