- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says paying parolees to stay out of trouble is not his idea and that he is reluctant to support such an initiative.

“It is the idea of our folks in corrections who put in for a grant for the plan,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “I will look at the results, but I am not enthusiastic about it.”

Mr. Ehrlich also restated that a private grant — not taxpayer money — would be used for the initiative, which would pay about 500 nonviolent parolees and probationers $10 to $25 each month to stay out of trouble.

Judith Sachwald, director of Maryland’s parole and probation department, the division responsible for implementing the initiative, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

The Abell Foundation in Baltimore is providing the initial $50,000 grant, though organization officials have not given final approval and no start date has been set since the initiative was announced at the end of last year, said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The money would cover only a 12- to 18-month pilot project and additional money would be needed for it to continue, he also said.

Among the program’s requirements, participants will have to have sought verifiable employment at least 10 times, have received a high school diploma or GED,obtained a commercial driver’s license and be drug-free. In return, they will receive vouchers redeemable through a bank, which will also offer financial counseling, Mr. Vernarelli said.

Officials have not publicly named which bank will be used.

Mr. Ehrlich’s comments follow those of fellow Republicans who oppose paying parolees to obey the law, too.

Delegate John R. Leopold, Anne Arundel Republican, has said he is “strongly opposed” to the initiative.

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

Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, another Anne Arundel Republican, said the plan is not “good policy.”

“Paying someone to do what they are supposed to do, to keep out of jail anyway, just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican, said mandatory drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation programs are needed to make the program work.

The administration faces a $786 million state 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.

The state’s budget is scheduled to be released tomorrow.

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