ANNAPOLIS – Some parolees and probationers moving to other states are getting lost in the system – sometimes with deadly consequences – and that’s why an influential Maryland delegate says he won’t let a system reform measure fail on his watch.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, said he’d like to spare a bill to create an interstate monitoring organization for parolees from a negative vote from his panel.
“Maryland has to be in the forefront of the bill because we’re part of the problem,” Vallario said. “We’re not going to kill this baby.”
Vallario said he’d rather send the measure to summer study than see it crushed under the Legislature’s loaded agenda.
Bills for stricter national oversight are pending in legislatures throughout the country, but Maryland is the poster child for promoting a more structured system to supervise those on parole and probation.
In October 1998, Donta Paige, who served two years of a 10-year Maryland sentence for burglary, was released to a drug treatment center in Denver and was to return to court upon completion of the program. By ordering Paige directly to Colorado, the judge bypassed the administrative process that would have notified Denver of his impending arrival.
After four months of unsupervised treatment, Paige was booted from the program. A day after his expulsion, the Denver District Attorney has charged, Paige raped and killed 24-year-old Peyton Tuthill.
Denver officials never knew he was there.
A little more than a year after her daughter’s death, Pat Tuthill said the legislation would bring enforcement to a system lacking accountability.
“I don’t want any other parent or family to go through the pain my family experienced. No one’s child deserves to die the way Peyton did when it’s so preventable,” Tuthill said. “I’m just a mom like any other. My dearest gift in life, my daughter, has been taken away.”
Legislation adopting the compact has been introduced in 12 states including both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly.
The proposal would replace an existing interstate compact that some say lacks authority and structure. The current compact says governors may appoint an administrator to oversee the movement of offenders and these administrators may work together. But, it sets no mandates or penalties for non-compliance, said Timothy Carroll, president of the Parole and Probation Compact Administration Association and the District of Columbia’s compact administrator.
The proposed compact creates a national board to replace Carroll’s volunteer association. It also requires member states to form a state council consisting of at least one member from all three branches of government, the compact administrator and a representative from a victims rights group. The combination of the national and state councils, Carroll said, will eliminate the kind of communication barriers that led to the Paige case.
A Prince George’s County Circuit judge ordered Paige to the Denver drug treatment center and he left without checking in with the compact office. It is not uncommon for a judge to sentence someone to an out-of-state facility if no similar centers exist in state.
Marcia McCray, deputy compact administrator, said, “We were truly the last to know” that Paige was in Denver. The office didn’t find out about the move until after Paige was charged with Tuthill’s murder.
While the compact office didn’t know Paige had been transferred, an office within the state parole and probation division did. However, those officials who did know his whereabouts thought the center did only inpatient counseling, keeping patients out of the community. Because that office thought Paige was an inpatient, Colorado authorities were not notified, McCray said.
The Maryland compact office should have requested permission to send Paige to Colorado under the current compact. Automatic transfers are permitted in only two cases under the current system: the transferee is to live with family or had been a resident of that state for over a year. In both cases, the transferees must prove they have secured employment. Any other case, including treatment and counseling, must be approved by the receiving state.
After the Paige incident, Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Bell sent an internal memo to judges throughout the state asking them to comply with the compact and mentioning two other similar cases. McCray said she was unaware of other incidents. There are 250,000 offenders living outside the states in which they were sentenced, said John Mountjoy, compact coordinator for the Council of State Governments. When the current compact was written in 1937, it applied to only a few thousand cases, making them much easier to track. The replacement compact calls for a national database to track offenders’ whereabouts, Mountjoy said.
Funding is also inadequate under the old system, Carroll said. It costs each state $400 a year now, but the proposal would use a funding formula incorporating a state’s population and the total number of offenders entering and leaving the state to determine dues.
The formula would raise $1.4 million; Maryland’s share would be $32,000 the first year.
With that kind of financial commitment, states are going to want results, and that will create more motivation for the compact to work, said Thomas Williams, Division of Parole and Probation director and state compact administrator.
Yet it is the cash outlay and the bill’s rigid requirements that could make the bill tough to pass. In order for the compact to be binding, every legislature must pass it without changes. This could be a difficult proposition in a legislature where amendments and minor tweaking often decides the fate of a bill.
Vallario said the committee would have to “see if we can bite down real hard and accept the thing as written.” The new compact would take effect with approval from at least 35 states.
The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, said the nature of the bill leaves lawmakers only one question “are we in or are we out?” Maryland should be in, he said, because “states around the country are looking to us as a reason to change.”