House, Se­nate re­main apart as Jus­tice Rein­vest­ment Act moves closer to pas­sage

Maryland Independent - - News - By RACHEL BLUTH Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

AN­NAPO­LIS — With just a few days left un­til the end of the Mary­land leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the House of Del­e­gates and state Se­nate have a long road of ne­go­ti­a­tions ahead on crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

The House of Del­e­gates sped up fi­nal pas­sage of the Se­nate’s ver­sion of the bill Wed­nes­day, sus­pend­ing the rules to vote on sec­ond and third read­ings of the legislation in one day, so the two bod­ies can quickly get to con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, where they can hash out dif­fer­ences.

How­ever, with only days left to reach con­sen­sus, each cham­ber isn’t even agree­ing on what the largest dif­fer­ences be­tween the House and Se­nate ver­sions are.

Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Bal­ti­more County) has said his big­gest is­sue with the House’s ver­sion of the Jus­tice Rein­vest­ment Act, a bill aimed at sav­ing the state money by re­duc­ing the prison pop­u­la­tion, is ad­min­is­tra­tive pa­role, which au­to­mat­i­cally releases those con­victed of non­vi­o­lent crimes af­ter serv­ing 25 per­cent of their sen­tence if they meet cer­tain con­di­tions.

Zirkin said that some crimes, which are not tech­ni­cally clas­si­fied as “vi­o­lent crimes” and are there­fore el­i­gi­ble for early re­lease, like sec­ond-de­gree as­sault and hu­man traf­fick­ing, should be ex­cluded from the bill.

“It would be out­ra­geous, in my opin­ion, to put vi­o­lent of­fend­ers back out on the street,” Zirkin said Tues­day.

Yet Del. Kath­leen Du­mais (D-Mont­gomery) clas­si­fied ad­min­is­tra­tive pa­role as one of the “mi­nor dif­fer­ences” be­tween the two ver­sions. She said the ques­tion of early re­lease shouldn’t hinge so much on the type of crime, but on whether the crim­i­nal is likely to re­of­fend.

“Every­one is fo­cused on if it’s a vi­o­lent crim­i­nal,” she said. “Well that per­son is still el­i­gi­ble for re­lease, we’re not chang­ing that. What we want to ad­dress is what’s the level of risk for re­cidi­vat­ing.”

Du­mais has two big prob­lems with the Se­nate’s ver­sion, in­clud­ing which crimes are el­i­gi­ble for ex­punge­ment, and the re­quired sen­tenc­ing for some crimes.

“The big is­sue is that we want to re­peal all manda­tory min­i­mums and they don’t,” Du­mais said of the Se­nate.

The Se­nate’s ver­sion has a “safety valve” for manda­tory min­i­mums, mean­ing that an of­fender wouldn’t get one un­less a judge de­ter­mines they are a threat to pub­lic safety, which Zirkin said is a good com­pro­mise.

Zirkin’s prob­lems with manda­tory min­i­mums are that they “tie the hands of judges” in the same way that ad­min­is­tra­tive pa­role does.

“It’s a lit­tle bit in­con­sis­tent, quite frankly, and hyp­o­crit­i­cal, to be so gung ho against manda­tory min­i­mums and so gung ho for ty­ing the hands of judges in other spheres,” Zirkin said.

There are some fun­da­men­tal philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences about the Jus­tice Rein­vest­ment Act that could make it hard to find com­mon ground.

The orig­i­nal rec­om­men­da­tions from the Jus­tice Rein­vest­ment Co­or­di­nat­ing Coun­cil, us­ing data from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, are closer to the House ver­sion. It rec­om­mended ad­min­is­tra­tive pa­role and pro­vided a ma­trix for how to sen­tence those who vi­o­late their pro­ba­tion, a mea­sure that is in the House bill and is slightly dif­fer­ent in the Se­nate bill.

Du­mais wants the fi­nal legislation to match the rec­om­men­da­tions from the Coun­cil and the data col­lected by Pew. Zirkin, on the other hand, has been skep­ti­cal of Pew, call­ing it an ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion and ques­tion­ing the group’s pol­icy anal­y­sis.

The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trust, which de­scribes it­self as non-gov­ern­men­tal and non-par­ti­san, was orig­i­nally in­vited by the Mary­land state gov­ern­ment to help with Jus­tice Rein­vest­ment in 2015 by help­ing to draft legislation and ed­u­cate mem­bers and the pub­lic about rec­om­men­da­tions.

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