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Maryland officials push lower penalties for nonviolent crimes

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More than 20,000 people are incarcerated in Maryland, costing the state more than $1 billion a year.

A commission of state and local officials released 19 recommendations Thursday for ways to reduce the incarceration rate and save the state money.

According to the report, more than half of the people sent to prison in Maryland commit nonviolent crimes. However, offenders spend more time in prison than they did a decade ago.

Working with the Pew Charitable Trusts, the commission found that reducing the number of people incarcerated and the amount of time served would save the state $247 million over the next 10 years.

"Our goal is to end the revolving door of inmates cycling in and out of prison," said Christopher Shank, commission chairman and executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention.

One tactic the commission recommended is sending some offenders to get treatment for mental health issues or drug addictions, rather than to prison. The state would then reinvest the money saved by cutting the prison population in treatment programs, said Montgomery County Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Democrat and commission member.

"Social science research shows that long sentences don't necessarily address recidivism,” she said. “That's what we want to be able to do, is to make sure that people have the ability to get back, reenter society as healthy, employed, functioning members of society."

Gov. Larry Hogan and state legislative leaders praised the commission’s recommendations. Commission members said they expect to see a bill reflecting the changes introduced when the legislature meets in January.