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Maryland Almost Maxes Out Prisons in 2010, Increases Prison Population Nearly Two Percent

For Immediate Release
December 15, 2011

Maryland Almost Maxes Out Prisons in 2010, Increases Prison Population Nearly Two Percent
While U.S. saw first drop in prison population since 1972, Maryland’s imprisoned population rises, facilities at 99% capacity

While the U.S. as a whole celebrates a historic turning point – a drop in the number of people incarcerated in state and federal facilities – Marylanders are left to wonder why their prison population increased 1.8 percent, to 22,645. Maryland’s operational prison capacity is 23,016. This rise came as a surprise to many, who had been applauding past years’ efforts to bring the prison population down.

Data released today by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics in their report, Prisoners in 2010, showed that the U.S. overall saw a 0.6% decline in the combined federal and state prison population. All of this decline came from state prisons, which had a 0.8 percent decline.

“Given the tight state budget situation, Maryland lawmakers should take a hard look at why the progress they’d been making to shrink their prison population has not just stalled out, but gone into reverse,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a D.C. nonprofit that researches criminal justice issues. “That Maryland’s crime rate went down substantially during this time – there was a six percent drop in violent crime and a 5.1 percent decrease in property crime – makes Maryland’s backsliding even more vexing.”

According to DOJ data, the number of sentenced people admitted to prison in Maryland in 2010 actually decreased 1.3 percent, from 9,959 to 9,828. Of these, 3,695 were people who were sent back to prison for not being able to successfully meet the conditions of their parole. However, while the country as a whole released more people than it sent to prison last year, Maryland saw a double-digit drop (13.1 percent) in the number of releases in 2010.

"It is deeply troubling that Maryland's rate of incarceration went up when many states across the country have moved toward spending less money on their bloated, ineffective criminal justice systems," stated Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the Maryland ACLU. "This new data shows that we need to provide better re-entry supports and services for people on parole, and use other options besides prison to address minor parole violations. It also points to the need for Maryland to finally reform mandatory minimum sentences and stop imprisoning nonviolent offenders for long sentences."

Velázquez also pointed to the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated in Maryland’s prisons, and said policymakers need to take a hard look at why these disparities continue. “Over 72 percent of people in Maryland’s prisons are African American, according to the 2010 Division of Corrections Annual Report,” noted Velázquez. “Only 29.4 percent of Marylanders are black. Policymakers should examine what points in the system these disparities occur, and what social investments can improve both public safety and individual and community well-being. The nationwide decreases show we can’t imprison our way to better outcomes. Hopefully as they think about the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers will consider how to get Maryland back on track to cut its prison population and the high costs that come with it.”

Prisoners in 2010 can be found on the BJS website here. For additional information please contact Jason Fenster at (202) 558-7974 x306 or jfenster@justicepolicy.org. To read JPI’s research on crime, incarceration and government spending, please visit www.justicepolicy.org

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit www.justicepolicy.org.

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Posted in Press Releases & Statements

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