Maryland Heroin Epidemic Prompts Rare Bipartisan Backing Of Criminal Justice Reform

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Gov. Larry Hogan is uniting Republicans and Democrats to battle Maryland’s heroin epidemic with contentious criminal justice reform aimed at keeping non-violent criminals out of prison.

As part of Hogan’s bipartisan push for broader criminal justice reforms in Maryland, non-violent criminals will have a chance to participate in a rehabilitation program to stay out of prison. The efforts broadly aim to reduce recidivism rates, but the reform also comes as a response to the growing heroin epidemic plaguing the state, reports The Washington Post.

In the first quarter of 2016, 147 people overdosed on heroin in Maryland. Activists say they are encouraged by the effort to address non-violent crimes through alternative paths.

“This is a good effort for change and it is not going unnoticed by the impact people here in the State of Maryland, his [Hogan] bi-partisan approval rating is showing of that,” Lea Green, President of Maryland CURE, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We are not in the political arena, but we understand that bi-partisan support gets things done.”

Following a recommendation from the Hogan Administration’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office received a state grant through the governor’s office of $540,000 to launch an adult day-reporting center. A judge can order a non-violent offender to the center to participate in addiction treatment, job training and counseling. (RELATED: Maryland Leads The Way On Criminal Justice Reform)

The center will also drug test participants, who must log 92 days at the center over a period of six months to avoid a prison sentence. Participants must also secure a job or be actively seeking one to remain in the program.

“As a mother of a LIFER and an advocate for change, this effort is good news for my family,” Green said. “The jails will not be the only solution for this dread[ed] disease that is affecting all of us.”

Some state lawmakers have previously expressed concerns over classifying heroin distribution as a non-violent crime. When Hogan signed the Justice Reinvestment Act in May, aimed at reducing prison populations, some detractors feared the law could make the heroin epidemic worse, reports The Baltimore Sun.

“Pushing heroin and other opioids isn’t non-violent,” Republican Delegate Herbert McMillan said before the law passed. “Reducing jail time for heroin pushers, during an opioid epidemic, does not send the message heroin pushers need to hear.”

Officials from the Hogan Administration argue the adult day-reporting center reform will reduce the rate of repeat criminal offenders. Hogan said in a statement Monday he hopes it will move the state closer to rehabilitating heroin addicts and reducing use of the drug in the state.

“Since day one, our administration has been committed to fighting Maryland’s heroin crisis, and today’s announcement is representative of that continued commitment,” Hogan said in the statement. “This pilot program is another step to provide those suffering with addiction with the effective treatment before, during and after incarceration.”

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