Maryland lawmakers, nonprofits, previously incarcerated individuals and others joined together recently for Maryland’s First Annual Statewide Community Re-Entry Symposium to discuss issues and advocate for legislation and programs that would benefit individuals who have recently been released from prison.
Maryland releases about 12,000 people from the Department of Corrections each year, and it is important to help those former inmates find jobs, said Keith Wallington of the Justice Policy Institute.
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“We’re here to today to talk about job opportunities for the returning community as it relates to the reduction of recidivism,” he said.
The recidivism rate for FY 2010, which was based on prisoners released in 2007, was 47.8 percent, said Bonita Cosgrove, chief of re-entry for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Recidivism refers to the rate of past offenders released from prison who end up back in the prison system.
Gregory Carpenter, one of several speakers at the event, spent 20 years in prison before returning to the community. During his incarceration and after he got out, he worked on educating himself.
“I did not serve the time,” he said. “I allowed it to serve me.”
Carpenter said he wants to make opportunities available for others in similar situations.
“We want to make sure that people who have made poor judgments get a second chance at life because who hasn’t made a mistake,” he said.
In 2009, Maryland established a Task Force on Prisoner Re-Entry to develop ideas and methods on how to successfully bring ex-offenders back into the community. Carpenter was part of the task force.
There are nine pieces of re-entry legislation before the Maryland General Assembly this session.
The task force recommendations now before the General Assembly include a bill to shield criminal records for nonviolent offenders for a period of time from the general public.
Another proposes a law to automatically but temporarily suspend child support payments for indigent inmates who serve more than a year in prison, but the custodial parent would be allowed to object.
Yet another bill would increase diminution credits for inmates to encourage them to take part in re-entry programs.
Prisoner re-entry is important to the local communities, said Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore.
“This is not just about individuals. It is also about communities and the impact public safety has on communities, as well as making sure the individuals returning home from detention and incarceration have the types of supports they need and their family needs,” she said.