ACLU Joins Republicans and Democrats to Support Bill to Steamline

Maryland's Bloated Prison System


February 10, 2011

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555;

BALTIMORE - The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today proudly joined a bipartisan group of legislators at a press conference to support proposed legislation that would begin to address the serious problem of over-incarceration in Maryland. The bill, sponsored by Del. Michael Hough (R-Frederick, Washington) in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senators Christopher Shank (R-Washington) and Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore) in the state Senate (S.B. 801), would create a pilot program to streamline our parole system.

The new pilot parole sanctions program would ensure that those who committed violations are punished appropriately and those who deserve to remain on parole do so. It would prevent prison beds from being taken up by people who commit minor rule violations - such as forgetting about a parole meeting, being unable to pay court imposed fees, or missing their community service hours.

"It's hard to believe, but there are actually people behind bars right now because they missed parole meetings. The size of Maryland's corrections system has tripled in recent years and is now higher than the national average, mostly because we are sending more people who commit nonviolent offenses to jail," said Melissa Goemann, Legislative Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "This bill has the potential to not only create a more just criminal system, but also to achieve considerable benefits for the state's budget and for Maryland taxpayers. Maryland spends over $1 billion on corrections - we should put that money to better use."

Over one-third of prison admissions across the country are the result of parole violations, not of criminal convictions. States like Kansas, Hawaii, and Wyoming have already implemented parole sanctions systems, like the one proposed in Maryland, with positive results - reducing prison populations and their corrections budgets while maintaining public safety.

In Baltimore alone, more than half of African American men between the ages of 20 and 30 are under the control of the Maryland corrections system - most serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent offenses. For many, the criminal justice system is now seen as the new Jim Crow, given the disproportionate representation of communities of color in the system and the enormous costs to these communities.

"Around the country, there is a growing consensus among legislators and advocates on both sides of the aisle that we are throwing too many people into prison who don't deserve to be there. We are advocating to reform our criminal justice system so that it protects public safety and civil rights and liberties, while also saving taxpayer dollars," said Inimai Chettiar, Policy Counsel for the ACLU Center for Justice. "Reform in Maryland is a top priority for the ACLU due to the drastic racial disparities in the criminal system here."

The growing problem of over-incarceration has prompted the ACLU to be even more proactive in reforming criminal justice systems nationwide. The ACLU of Maryland supports the parole sanctions bill and will further engage lawmakers to ensure that the pilot program protects the civil rights and liberties of Maryland citizens. Notably, the bill is supported by advocates from across the political spectrum.


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