ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates voted 127-6 Tuesday to again give state judges the authority to sentence prisoners to home detention, a power stripped by a 1999 Maryland Court of Appeals decision.
The high court said in August that only judges in Cecil, Allegany, Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles counties had the authority under current law to impose home detention, which had been a common practice in all counties. The bill would return that authority to judges statewide.
The Senate passed its own version of the bill earlier this session in just nine working days — lightning fast for a bill approval. There are differences between the two measures, but a Senate leader said Tuesday that he expects to be able to work out the differences.
The sponsor of the House measure, Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, said judges throughout the state asked for the bill. He said it gives them an option between the extremes of hard time and parole, and saves taxpayers money because many criminals pay private home detention companies to monitor them instead of being jailed at taxpayers’ expense.
“That is better than just paying a fine and getting back on the street to start drinking and using drugs,” Dembrow said.
Dembrow also said the bill would help free prison cells for violent offenders, by letting judges sentence non-violent offenders to home detention.
Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, stood up to oppose the bill before Tuesday’s vote, citing a recent case in Baltimore where a violent felon on home detention was charged with a police officer’s murder.
“As we push this through today, we just give judges another way to put people in home detention so they can leave home and go out and commit crimes,” he said on the floor.
Hubbard tried unsuccessfully last week to require that judges review the criminal record of those they sentence to home detention, but his amendment failed 44-91.
The House did add several clarifying amendments to the bill, however, as well as an amendment to specify that inmates get prison credit for the time they spend on home detention. Then, if home detention were violated, the inmate would have to serve only the balance of their sentence in jail, not the entire sentence.
The Senate bill does not address that issue. The House amendments won the support of the public defender’s office, which opposed the Senate bill because of its ambiguities, said Theodore Wieseman, a deputy counsel with the office.
Some private home detention agencies, which have seen a drop in business since the ruling, also support the bill.
“I think business throughout the state will pick up, not right away, but slowly but surely,” if the bill passes, said Timothy Schlauch, executive director of Alert, a private home detention company.
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Walter Baker, D-Cecil, said he expects to be able to work out differences between the bills with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, which would clear the way for final passage.
Gov. Parris Glendening supports giving “the courts more authority” and tightening “the restrictions on criminals,” said Raquel Guillory, his spokeswoman. But since Glendening has not read the bill yet, she could not say whether he would sign it.