Md. General Assembly passes proposed Justice Reinvestment Act
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By: Steve Lash, Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer, April 11, 2016
ANNAPOLIS – The General Assembly has passed sweeping legislation to alter the way Maryland’s criminal justice system treats non-violent offenders from a tool of punishment to a gateway to treatment.
The Senate and House on Monday afternoon passed the proposed Justice Reinvestment Act, which emerged the past weekend as Senate and House conferees agreed to eliminate mandatory minimums for drug crimes and permit ailing convicts 60 years of age and above to be granted probation if their health indicates they do not present a threat to society. The measure also contains provisions that would dramatically expand the number of crimes eligible for expungement.
The Senate passed the bill 46-0; the House vote was 122-19. Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to sign the measure into law this spring.
Under the measure, Senate Bill 1005, technical violations of parole and probation, such as failing a drug test, would generally not result in long prison sentences.
The measure also contains provisions that would dramatically expand the number of crimes eligible for expungement.
Specifically, judges could sentence a technical violator of probation to up to 15 days for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 45 days for a third offense. For a fourth offense, the judge could sentence the offender to serve out the remainder of his or her prison term.
Judges could cancel parole or probation if they conclude the technical violator presents a threat to public safety based on his or her history of violence.
The bill would ensure long prison terms for certain violent crimes, such as child abuse that kills the youngster, and would raise from 30 to 40 years the sentence for second-degree murder.
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, a lead sponsor of the proposal, called the measure “a game changer” in Maryland criminal justice. He said it represents “good public policy that does not negatively impact public safety.”
The bill was prompted by recommendations of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, comprised of legislators, prosecutors and public defenders. The panel met last year, in collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts, to develop ways to reduce incarceration in Maryland – without reducing public safety – and with an eye toward cutting prison costs by millions of dollars annually.