The Maryland Senate unanimously approved a bill that would reduce the amount of money spent on housing prisoners, by focusing correctional spending on serious and violent criminals and opting for rehabilitation over retribution.
Senate Bill 1005, the Justice Reinvestment Act, was approved with no dissenting votes by Maryland senators in April, after being approved by the House of Representatives earlier that month.
If signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the law would divert individuals convicted of nonviolent drug crimes into treatment programs and limit the amount of jail time for individuals who violate the terms of their parole.
Ronnie Lampard, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Criminal Justice Reform Task Force, says it’s important to ensure the criminal justice system is efficient and fair to everyone, including taxpayers.
“Criminal justice reform involves using data-driven reforms and evidence-based practices, supported by scientific research, to enact solutions to existing criminal justice policies,” Lampard said. “The overall goal is to reduce incarceration rates and recidivism rates without compromising public safety. There have been dangerous people roaming the Earth since the beginning of time, and the U.S. criminal justice system is effective and fair in dealing with those who pose a danger to society. However, there are better alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-risk offenders.”
Lampard says criminal justice reform does not necessarily mean being soft on crime.
“The public should understand that ‘reform’ does not mean opening up the prison gates and letting everyone out,” Lampard said. “They should understand that these reforms are for those who are not a threat to public safety. Violent individuals deserve significant prison time, as they pose a serious risk to public safety.”
Not ‘Smart on Crime’
Lauren Krisai, director of criminal justice reform for the Reason Foundation, says lawmakers across the country are taking a fresh look at criminal justice policies.
“Legislators are starting to realize that the draconian ‘tough on crime,’ one-size-fits-all policies haven’t exactly been smart on crime,” Krisai said. “Many strict sentencing laws that were enacted in the past several decades have led to an explosion in the prison population—a good percentage of inmates being nonviolent offenders—and there’s little evidence that suggests tougher sentences for nonviolent offenders have added public safety benefits.
“Many states have begun to reexamine these polices and have passed reforms similar to Maryland’s,” Krisai said. “In many states that have enacted reforms, crime and prison populations decreased at the same time, which shows the two can go hand in hand.”
Andy Torbett ([email protected]) writes from Atkinson, Maine.