ECI's Inmate Release Program Puts Accent on Re-entry to Society
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SALISBURY -- It had been almost a decade since Jayafus Kelly had seen the light of day as a free man. He sat down jittery to a breakfast of pancakes stacked seven high, stuffing himself in a show of appreciation to the guys who gave them up.

It was his release day from the Eastern Correctional Institution where he had spent nine years of a state prison sentence for assault and robbery. On his last day --July 10 -- the guys he left behind performed a rap song in his honor, then doled out portions of their favorite meal to Kelly as a proper send-off.

Within a few hours, Kelly joined hundreds of men released annually from the Eastern Correctional Institution medium-security prison in Westover, the largest in Maryland. He had spent the last six months at ECI's pre-release unit in Salisbury, Poplar Hill, from where he was released July 10 into the sunshine to his mother and stepfather, who had driven down for the occasion from Pennsylvania.

"The guys like pancakes -- it's one of their favorite meals -- but everybody wanted to give me theirs," Kelly said. "My mom and stepdad drove down. I was glad a ride came. I didn't know if I could go out on my own."

The inmate release procedure -- minus the last menu -- was protocol, following steps in a state prison release policy that encourages re-entry participation by family member, but allows releases with an Eastern Shore address to leave prison grounds without an escort.

Releases from outside the eastern region account for the majority of ECI prisoners, and are transferred a day or more earlier to a state prison closest to their home when it is time for their release. Inmates from outside Maryland are required to post a bond in their home state to cover the administrative work between a social worker and distance authorities to accommodate the release an inmate to their home.

The policy, said ECI Warden Kathleen S. Green, better positions inmates to connect with services closest to their hometowns.

The policy, adopted in 2007, also is a public safety measure intended to satisfy criticisms by Somerset County leaders who feared earlier release practices discouraged former inmates from leaving the area.

"Early on, we would put inmates on a bus and take them to Baltimore," Green said. "Most of the time we would take them to an intake prison -- it was a free ride. We got them across the (Bay) Bridge. If it was a late release and there was no free ride, if it was a Saturday, we'd take them to the Greyhound station."

The Maryland of Public Safety and Correctional Services said re-entry procedures also address goals by Maryland Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Gary Maynard that involve tracking and servicing inmates throughout their time in incarceration and beyond.

"The system is designed to provide continuity in services from a better hook-up of services between the time an inmate is arrested to the end of community supervision," said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman at DPSCS. "We had a tracking system, but now it is more efficient."

In 2011, an estimated 800 inmates were released from ECI, where more than 70 percent are black, the average age is 36.8 and the average stay is 69.1 months. According to ECI data, the highest percentage of inmates, or 20 percent, are charged with murder and the next highest offense is robbery, about 17 percent.

Release procedures involve working to get inmates a birth certificate, a social security card and a Maryland identification card.

They also get a 30-day supply of needed medications, money earned, and if applicable, are registered as sex offenders, Green said.

Green sits on the Citizens Advisory Counsel that meets quarterly and hasn't heard a complaint about release procedures in years. No news, she says, must be good news.

"I can't remember when that has been brought up," the warden said. "Somerset County politicians were fearful that we'd turn them loose anytime. To this county, one (inmate) was a lot. Most inmates are from (the western shore of Maryland) and wanted to go back."

Kelly, the inmate released in July, grew up on the Lower Shore and lives in Princess Anne. A local business has lent outdoor space in Salisbury to launch a vehicle detail business.

"I was nervous when I was waiting to get out," Kelly said, watching for potential business at his makeshift detail stand. "I had $130 in my regular (prison) account. I need to earn a living, so I'm making a go at this."