ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Bills giving law-breakers a chance to get back on their feet are making progress in the Maryland General Assembly — and with bipartisan support.
Some of the legislation still being considered this session would restore voting rights to ex-felons as soon as they are released from behind bars; expunge a record of a crime that is no longer a crime; create a pilot program for small businesses run by ex-offenders; remove mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenders; review Maryland’s criminal justice system.
“This is the opposite of throwing away the key,” said Jamie Raskin, a Democratic senator from Montgomery County, who is the lead sponsor on a bill that would shield certain nonviolent offenses from public eyes. “This is using the key to open a door to a new future.”
Raskin said he’s seen support from both sides of the aisle for legislation to thin prisons and help re-assimilate some ex-offenders, because “these are our people across the board.”
“We are not just talking about ex-offenders in Baltimore,” he said. “I don’t hear any member saying this is somebody else’s problem.”
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has added his support to Raskin’s shielding bill, saying it is the “right thing to do” to reduce the “stigma” of a criminal record and encourage economic growth.
But Del. Patrick McDonough, a Republican from Baltimore County, said the legislature is focusing too much on criminals and not enough on public safety and the victims of those crimes.
“It is clear that these criminal advocates, who are supposed to represent the citizens, are making the criminals the winners,” McDonough said in a letter sent to various media outlets and fellow Republicans entitled “Year of the Criminal.” “Public safety, crime victims, crime victim families, survivors, and law enforcement professionals are not even on the radar screen.”
Del. Curtis Anderson, D-Baltimore City, who is sponsoring several bills aimed at reducing crime and recidivism — when an ex-offender commits another offense — said the chambers are not passing any more bills than they normally do during sessions, and to characterize it as such would be “inaccurate.”
“Each year the legislature does recognize the fact that in order to keep people from recidivating … it comes up with ways to change circumstances that led them” to crime in the first place, Anderson said.
The rate of people returning to prison after their release was about 40 percent within the first three years, according to a 2013 study from the state’s
Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Anderson said it’s common sense that people who have jobs and who vote want to be productive members of society.
“Thankfully we pass bills like this, consider bills like this,” Anderson said. “It’s not the next big thing. It’s just a matter of chipping away each year at problems the poor and underprivileged face.”
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