Rely less on jails for punishment, state panel urges Community service, home detention touted as cheaper

May 02, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

Maryland should put fewer prisoners in costly jails and more into home monitoring and community service, according to a new study prepared by a gubernatorial task force.

The study, recently presented to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, gives the state a 15-point blueprint for alternatives to incarceration.

"Throughout the nation, all components of the criminal justice system have been excessively taxed due to the burgeoning offender population," the report says. "The incessant building of physical plants to house inmates has continued to drain economic resources."

"This is something that, for the state's fiscal welfare, absolutely has to be done," said Nancy J. Nowak, director of the Governor's Office of Justice Administration.

With judges handing out stiffer sentences, an increase in drug-related crime and more prisons coming on line, Maryland's inmate population has increased from 12,000 to 20,000 over the past five years and is growing at the rate of 100 a month.

The state opened five new prison buildings last year, and more are in the works. Officials say it costs an average of $25,000 a year to keep a prisoner in jail.

Mr. Schaefer supports the study's recommendations, particularly the expanded use of community service, Ms. Nowak said. The governor could not be reached for comment last night.

Most of the recommendations can be implemented at minimal cost, the study found. In addition, the report urges judges to impose bigger fines on criminals and aggressively collect bonds forfeited by bail-jumpers.

A key component of the report calls for assigning more convicts to community service projects, rather than to the state's overburdened parole and probation office.

"The expanded use of community service as a single sanction . . . would be a more appropriate public policy in light of the critically limited resources available for incarceration and community supervision," the report says.

The study found that the state must do something to ease liability for damage caused by inmates, a potential problem that has scared off sponsors of service projects. A bill that would have eased liability in such programs failed in the General Assembly session that ended last month.

The report also suggests that parolees should be given state-sponsored work assignments. "There's no reason they shouldn't be employed on some state job," Ms. Nowak said.

In addition, non-violent parole violators should be put into home detention rather than be returned to jail, the report suggested.

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