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Sandra Pruitt, People for Change Coalition Inc.’s executive director, helped promote this seminar. (Photo pfccoalition.org)

The Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) hosted a training to discuss ending the mass incarceration of Black people, in Largo on Jan. 10.

MAJR is a bi-partisan, statewide alliance seeking legislative changes to bring Maryland into the 21st century with corrections policies that are evidence-based, humane, and effective.

Sandra Pruitt, People for Change Coalition Inc.’s executive director, helped promote this seminar. She said, “We want to reduce the amount of people incarcerated.  We want to reduce the time they are in jail as well.”

This event was held to discuss alternatives to incarceration, screening for low-risk offenders, practical skills job training and education while incarcerated, pre-release support for jobs and re-entry services, employer Incentives, collateral consequences, and life with Parole Returning Citizens.

The workshop also included an interactive activity where participants teamed up and practiced lobbying visits. This was very helpful , teaching potential advocates the correct things to say and do when promoting initiatives of importance this legislative session.

The MAJR is promoting six bills in the 2015 Maryland General Assembly, bringing together legislation with alliance organizations such as the Annapolis Friends Peace and Justice Center, Job Opportunity Task Force, Restorative Justice Initiative, and Uniform Laws Commission.

The Maryland Safer Communities Reinvestment Fund bill would reallocate some state prison funs for improved offender screen, diversion, re-entry services, victim assistance and job training.  These funds, captured by reducing prison costs, are targeted to provide services needed by higher risk offenders to decrease recidivism.  This bill will save taxpayer dollars and improve public safety.

Maryland’s juvenile mediation and “restorative justice” programs for youthful, adult, and misdemeanor offenders will be expanded under the Safer Communities Conciliation Act.  When offenders successfully complete agreements to satisfy victims – like restitution, counseling, and avoiding new problems – charges would go away so no criminal record impedes employment. This allows victims to sit at the table with an offender to hear an apology and reach an agreement for restitution or other remedies.

The Screening for Public Safety and More Effective Corrections bill will use Justice Reinvestment funds to identify and target services for inmates based on factors likely to cause repeat offenses. This saves time and money because each inmate sentenced to state prison could be screened for appropriate placement and services, rather than being transferred to an expensive central facility in Baltimore.  This also will improve the inmate’s transition back to the community at the end of their sentence.

With the potential for reimbursement through the Full and Fair Reimbursement for Local Detention bill, county detention centers may agree to assist the State in early screening, re-entry, and pre-release services without incurring financial penalties. “We want to get funding from state back to local,” JOTF member Caryn York said.

The employment related measures bill addresses a variety of problems including allowing certain misdemeanor convictions to be shielded from public view after a 3-5 year waiting period. It also expands the Correctional Enterprises prison job programs in Maryland and orders the partial or full restoration of employment rights, licenses, etc., if no unreasonable risk to the safety or welfare of others exists. The bill also outlines a “certificate of rehabilitation” for an offender who has avoided new offenses, who performed everything asked on parole and probation, and who seeks a job for which they are qualified.  According to MAJR, “Regular employment reduces recidivism by 50 percent.”

The final bill MAJR is supporting will put the parole recommendation decisions for offenders sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in the hands of the governor’s appointed Parole Commission. These commissioners would be relied on to make evidence-based recommendations, prescribing parole for inmates who earned it and providing the safest parole supervision