Study: Maryland spending too much locking people up; Not enough on alternative programs

November 28, 2016

BALTIMORE (WBFF) — Research from the Justice Policy Institute challenges the way Maryland has traditionally invested in recent years.

“We focused on Baltimore because Baltimore has a disproportionate amount of people who wind up in state prison,” JPI executive director Marc Schindler said. “We just are foolish to keep spending bad money on something that we know gets terrible outcomes.”

JPI’s research published in 2015 showed Maryland spent about $37,000 a year to incarcerate one person. The inmates in Maryland are disproportionately from Baltimore City–about one in three. The highest percentage comes from the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore, where Freddie Gray was arrested in April 2015.

“That means the state is spending about 17 million dollars a year to incarcerate people from that small community,” Schindler said. “Prison, which is the least effective and most expensive way to spend our tax dollars. We are overusing prison and secure confinement at rates unseen in history, really.”

JPI recommends criminal justice funds be used for alternative programs like job placement and drug rehabilitation programs.

The state passed in 2015 the Justice Reinvestment Act, designed to cut the state’s prison population by more than 1,000 inmates, redirecting about $80 million to other crime prevention programs.

Organizations like Living Classrooms in East Baltimore offers job training to ex-offenders, serving about 200 a year.

“You can not build a community when you designate this particular population to forever be on the outside looking in,” John Huffington of Living Classrooms said. “I would love to go larger and more to scale, but what that requires for our model is we need opportunities. I need more contracts with the city and with the state.”

The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office is working with non-violent drug offenders in a program called “Aim to B’More,” serving 42 participants with drug diversion programs to give them a chance to wipe their records clean.

“When these young people get these felony convictions, they can no longer apply for a job,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said. “They can’t go back to school because they can’t get any financial aid. They can no longer apply for housing, so what other recourse do they have than to go out doing what they were doing in the first place. For far too long, we’ve focused on non-violent felony drug offenders, and we’ve treated what should have been a public health crisis as a criminal justice problem.”

Read the Justice Policy Report, ‘The Right Investment? Corrections Spending in Baltimore City,’ here: