Reacting to concerns of elected officials in Western Maryland, the O'Malley administration announced yesterday that it is changing the way inmates are released from state prisons.
Most inmates in the rural prisons in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore are from the Baltimore-Washington metro area. When an inmate's sentence ends, he is given $50 in cash and dropped off at a bus station.
Under the new policy, corrections officials say, inmates will be transported to a prison in Baltimore or one closer to their home community a day or so before discharge.
Releasing an inmate to a more familiar environment, closer to family members, makes good sense from a policy standpoint, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
"It is sound correctional practice to let inmates out where they are most likely not to reoffend," Vernarelli said.
Maryland Public Safety Secretary Gary D. Maynard discussed the policy change at a meeting of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce yesterday.
"I'm enormously pleased about it," said Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II. "I think it addresses one of the major concerns we've had."
Bruchey and other community leaders had been pushing for the change, contending that some inmates remain in Western Maryland after their release and drive up crime rates.
But a study done by the department found only eight of the 622 inmates from other areas who were released from prisons near Hagerstown and Cumberland between January and June of this year remained in the area. The five prisons in those two communities house about 9,000 inmates.
Six of the eight were working in jobs that they started before their release, and the other two have family in the area, corrections officials said.
The state's inmate release policies have nevertheless been a continuing controversy in Hagerstown.
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown recently published an opinion piece by the mayor, in which he responded to a letter to the editor an inmate had written on the issue of prisoner releases in Hagerstown.
"The bottom line is this," Mayor Bruchey wrote. "If you weren't a resident of Hagerstown or Washington County before your incarceration, we definitely don't want you as one when you are released."
Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement that releasing inmates closer to their homes and to where they have access to re-entry programs and services "can help ensure that these individuals become full, productive members of our community."