Ex-offenders less likely to return to prison, Maryland officials say
09/30/2013
Baltimore Sun - Online

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The percentage of Maryland ex-offenders likely to return to prison within three years of release has fallen by double digits since 2000, state prison officials reported Monday.

Secretary Gary D. Maynard, the top official within the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, cited the prison system's improved educational and job skills training programs as reasons for the plunge, as well as stronger partnerships with state health agencies to get inmates proper medical and mental health services during sentences and upon release.

Evaluating inmates' academic, substance abuse and behavioral treatment needs at the start of prison sentences are also paying off, Maynard said.

"Focusing on re-entry at reception," he said.

According to figures the state released Monday, the rate at which ex-inmates are returning to prison or probation for new crimes within three years of release stood at 40.5 percent in 2012, an almost 3 percent drop from the previous year and almost 11 percent lower than 2000, when the state's recidivism rate was reported at 51.4 percent.

The falling recidivism rate was a positive note for the state's beleaguered corrections system, which continues to implement reforms after a federal jail smuggling and corruption investigation earlier this year that involved more than a dozen corrections officers in the Baltimore City Detention Center, as well as multiple stabbings or assaults on prison officers that has drawn criticism from union officials over safety protocols and institutional leadership.

Maryland measures recidivism in three-year increments and the figures were based on the 11,418 total prisoners released from the corrections system in 2009. The newly released statistics also showed that the number of prisoners released in Maryland each year is also decreasing from 13,113 in 2000 to 9,682 in 2011.

According to the most recent national figures from the Bureau of Justice statistics, 16 percent of parolees in 2007 were re-incarcerated within that same year. In Maryland, 23.3 percent of inmates released in 2007 were re-incarcerated within a year, state figures showed. In 2011, state statistics say that figure dropped to 16.6 percent.

Scott H. Decker, an Arizona State University criminology professor who studies recidivism, said about two-thirds of all ex-offenders in the United States re-offend within three years. He said Maryland's approach tying health programs with the corrections system is a tact that has proved successful keeping ex-offenders out of prison.

"You have people who are putting their families back together who are paying taxes and there are all kinds of social benefits that accrue when someone stops offending," he said. "Look at that reduction from 2000 to 2012 of about 11 percent, You're talking about over 1,000 people who are not in the system anymore, at least in a three-year window."

William Collins, 25, serving a five-year sentence in Baltimore, said the job skills programs give him a "better fighting chance" upon release. On Monday, he was studying how to charge refrigerants inside the Occupational Skills Training Center, one of several workshops the prison system uses to train inmates.

The job skills programs, he said, gave him a "better fighting chance."

Since 2007, prison officials said, they have entered into partnerships with the departments of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, health and Natural Resources that has resulted in inmates having more access to drug treatment, mental health services, job skill training and education.

Gayle Jordan-Randolph, deputy secretary for Behavioral Health within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said a "data link" system between the health department and corrections services has helped ensure that inmates are receiving adequate mental health and medical treatment and a "continuity of care" that extends beyond prison walls. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,100 inmates completed drug treatment programs, corrections officials said.

Leonard J. Howie III, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which runs the state's Correctional Educational Program, said more inmates are gaining training in automotive technology, carpentry, roofing, warehousing and distribution and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Between fiscal year 2010 and 2013, 2,746 inmates have received high school diplomas and 3,419 have completed a career and technology program.

"The instruction that offenders are getting while incarcerated is truly second to none," he said.

Andre Vince, 31, who has served 12 years of a 20-year sentence, said the state's workshop and certification training gives many inmates a career focus, often for the first time, aiding them in job searches upon release.

"It's a plus to have a direction to go in," Vince said. "Why not take advantage of an opportunity?"