- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Maryland Division of Parole and Probation for the first time will be using the juvenile records of violent adult offenders in order to allow parole officers to better monitor those with violent tendencies, according to an internal memo obtained by The Washington Times.

The move comes as Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, presses for greater cooperation between local, state and federal agencies regarding access to juvenile records.

The memo detailed several changes in the process for screening those who are placed in the division’s Violence-Prevention Unit, an outgrowth of a 2007 initiative from Mr. O’Malley. The unit was created to reduce violent crimes by identifying those with violent histories or who show tendencies to continue down a violent path. The unit then monitors and supervises them more closely than normal parolees.

Division Director Phil Pie said that the new screening process includes the ability to look at an offender’s juvenile record, according to the memo. The new screening combines both juvenile and adult arrests, increasing the total number of arrests to qualify for the program from seven to 13.

The changes follow legislative proposals by Mr. O’Malley this year to allow the sharing of juvenile court records with other states and the District, as well as with other state and federal agencies that serve juvenile offenders.

“It’s a response to the technology used to swap data, and the fact that there is now greater sharing of intelligence between the [parole division] and local agencies. In short, the division has become much more proactive in preventing violent crime by offenders,” said Rick Benetti, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The new screening also includes an older provision that puts offenders who have been victims of a shooting within three years of their arrest automatically in the violence-prevention program.

State officials said that shooting victims are put into the program because they are more likely to try to take vengeance on the person who shot them.

“The idea is, if you’re an offender, and you’re involved in a shooting, whether a victim or not, chances are you’re doing something wrong,” Mr. Benetti said.

Maryland Delegate Jill Carter, Baltimore Democrat, questioned the program’s effectiveness, saying that it was part of Mr. O’Malley’s tendency to favor “stat-based symbolism over actual substance.”

“I disagree with any policy that would brand a victim of crime as a future criminal,” she said.

Rai Douglass, a parole agent and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3661, said that while he supports giving agents as much information as possible, he is worried the division is putting additional pressure on agents to issue arrest warrants for those who violate parole, exposing them to possible retaliation by offenders.

“Security is an issue that’s never been addressed by the division. The more folks we have in this program, the more arrest warrants we’ll be issuing, and then it becomes the case where we’re viewed more as police officers than as parole agents,” Mr. Douglass said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. O’Malley said the practice is legal and helpful in deterring violent crime.

Since the violence-prevention program was started in July 2007, Baltimore has seen a 16 percent drop in violent crime.

“Statistics show that the program has been effective,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Christine Hansen.

Legislation regarding the sealing or expunging of juvenile records varies from state to state. In California and Texas, a sealed juvenile record will deny access to any law enforcement or employment agency. In Massachusetts, the state is forbidden from expunging a juvenile record for any reason. In Maryland, a sealed juvenile record can be reopened with permission of a juvenile court judge.

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