Majority of ex-inmates end up in city

Rate is 7 former prisoners for every 1,000 residents

March 18, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore is home to the densest population of former inmates in the state, with about 7 ex-prisoners for every 1,000 residents, according to a study released yesterday

In some city neighborhoods, as many as 16 people out of 1,000 have spent more than one year in prison, according to the report, "A Portrait of Prisoner Re-entry in Maryland."

The study was sponsored by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research group, as well as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Open Society Institute and other foundations.

Researchers found that 9,448 prisoners who served more than a year were released from Maryland's penal institutions in 2001, an increase of 74 percent from 1980. This is a result of shifts in crime-fighting strategies that called for more arrests and incarcerations, especially for drug offenders. Maryland opened five prisons over the past decade.

Only about 17 percent of prisoners receive transition training such as educational classes while in prison to help them with life on the outside, according to the study.

About 60 percent of Maryland prisoners return to Baltimore - where the bulk of the state's crimes are committed - when they are set free, the study said.

"Baltimore is likely to be a challenging place for re-entry because even law-abiding citizens are having a hard time finding jobs," said Nancy G. La Vigne, senior research associate at the Urban Institute and one of the authors of the study. "There is also a high percentage of the population at large in need of substance abuse treatment."

With about 650,000 residents living in 81 square miles, Baltimore has an 8 percent unemployment rate, nearly double the statewide average. Almost a quarter of city residents live below the poverty line, according to the study, and about 9 percent of city residents need drug treatment.

Baltimore has the highest concentration of heroin use in the country, with about 40 percent of arrested males and nearly half of arrested females testing positive for heroin, the study says.

"The heroin epidemic is almost unique to Baltimore," La Vigne said.

When prisoners return to Baltimore, they overwhelmingly go to one of six neighborhoods the study calls "highly disadvantaged": Southwest Baltimore, Greater Rosemont, Sandtown-Winchester-Harlem Park, Greenmount East, Clifton-Berea and Lower Park Heights.

The highest concentration is in Greenmount East, where 16 of every 1,000 people have served at least one year in prison.

The six neighborhoods each absorb more former inmates than most of the counties in Maryland.

Baltimore County receives about 10 percent of departing inmates, and Prince George's County takes about 6 percent. Anne Arundel County, which borders Baltimore City to the south, takes about 3 percent. The rest of the counties each take in 2 percent or less.

According to the study, one-third of the inmates statewide are locked up for drug offenses.

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