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Lawmakers debate bills to improve quality of life behind bars for MD inmates

Posted at 5:02 PM, Mar 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-08 08:00:40-05

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Lawmakers are debating how to help the prison population.

More than 15,000 people were incarcerated in the state at the beginning of 2021 according to the National Institute of Corrections.

A bill introduced by Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins would give people serving a felony sentence in Maryland's jails the opportunity to vote.

"Legislators who are weighing in on a number of bills and incarcerated individuals or incarcerated voters should be able to weigh in on who these representatives are that are making decisions on their behalf," said Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.

The opposition says jails already follow most of the protocols in the bill.

The bill sponsor says while jails do this for some inmates, people convicted of felonies don't get the option to vote.

Another bill sponsored by Senator Jeff Waldstreicher and Delegate Kent Roberson would eliminate the costs for people in prison to make phone calls.

Delegate Marlon Amprey from Baltimore City shared a personal story on how this impacted him.

"When I was [a] young man, my father and my brother were incarcerated at the same time. It was a huge financial burden on my mother and I to continue communicating with my father and my brother. The burden was on us as much as it was them who were incarcerated," said Delegate Amprey.

The bill had no opposition testimony when heard in the Senate.

Proponents of both these bills say it would lower recidivism rates and make incarcerated people feel more connected with the outside world.

Another bill, sponsored by Delegate Stephanie Smith, has been a key focus of the Scott administration this session.

The bill would require home detention system operators to notify law enforcement within 24 hours of someone leaving their monitoring area.

"If they do violate those services we want to ensure local authorities are contacted in a timely manner," said Delegate Smith.

With just over a month left in the legislative session, it's a race against time to get these bills across the finish line.