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Maryland Prisons MisCalculate Half of All Prisoner Release Dates

by David M. Reutter

Up to one half of all Maryland prisoners early release dates at two prisons were erroneous, concluded a report by the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits. The report declined to identify the two prisons it audited, as it felt the problems exposed are system wide.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services-Division of Corrections (DOC) oversees the State's 23 prisons. According to DOC records, approximately 23,000 prisoners were incarcerated during fiscal year 2004.

To influence cooperation and promote positive behavior by its prisoners, Maryland law offers a carrot in the form of diminuation credits, which provides a mechanism to release prisoners prior to the expiration of their full sentence. Prisoners earnings such credits are placed on mandatory supervision for oversight and monitoring by the Maryland Parole Commission until the expiration of the full-term of their sentence.

Maryland law permits prisoners to earn up to 20 days of diminuation credits a month. Those credits fall under four broad categories:

" Good Conduct CreditsAllows up to 10 days credit per month for following DOC behavioral guidelines.

" Work Task CreditsPrisoners can receive up to 5 days a month for satisfactory performance in approved work programs.

" Educational CreditsSatisfactory progress in vocational, educational, and other training programs can merit up to 5 days at month.
" Special Project Creditsfor completing special tasks or programs, (such as dual cell occupancy in overcrowded prisons) a prisoner may earn 10 days per month.

The audit was conducted to: (1) determine whether DOC's policies and procedures properly reflect relevant state laws, regulations, and court rulings relating to diminuation credits; and (2) to assess processes and controls over diminuation credits and to determine if prisoner releases are based on properly calculated and recorded audits.

The report concluded DOC developed and implemented policies and procedures to comply with legal requirements surrounding diminuation credits. Moreover, it had disseminated the necessary information to all appropriate employees.

The report, however, concluded serious problems existed in calculating those credits. The audit's first finding revealed prisoners were not always released on the appropriate date. Out of a statistical sample of 65 mandatory release cases taken from the two prisons, 22 release dates were incorrect. Early release errors related to 17 prisoners being released from 1 to 112 days early. The remaining 5 prisoners were overdetained by 3 to 24 days. Based on its test results, the auditors were certain that up to 48.6 percent of prisoners released on mandatory supervision in 2003 were not released on the appropriate date.

The miscalculations resulted from DOC awarding work credits to prisoners unable to work, such as those in segregation. Additionally, DOC did not always post credits awarded for time served while prisoners were in local jails prior to transfer to DOC. As a remedy, the report recommended DOC institute a process to recalculate mandatory release dates based on all available documentation maintained by DOC. Currently, DOC maintains two files on each prisoner, each held a separate locations. Each file contains different diminuation credit information that is not considered
cumulatively.

The report also found DOC fails to document the number of days a prisoner worked, as required by DOC policy. As a result, in 25 test cases it could not be verified the prisoner actually earned the award. It further found there existed a disparity in work credit awards for similar tasks. For example, at one prison the job of painter receives 10 days per month. Two other prisons only award 5 days for performing the same job. To rectify these problems, the report recommended DOC implement a system to verify days a prisoner works and implement policies to promote consistency in awarding credits.

Finally, the audit team concluded that too many people have access to critical information in the DOC's computer system that maintains and calculates the award of diminuation credits. As such, the current 900 users with such access should be gleaned down to the approximate 240 employees that require access to complete their job duties.

DOC, to its credit, accepted each finding by the auditors. It said it would implement all the recommendations contained in the report.

A copy of this December 2004 report, entitled Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Diminuation Credits, may be obtained on the internet at www.ola.state.md.us or at www.prisonlegalnews.org.

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