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Violent Criminals Are Using Drug Treatment Programs To Disappear From Maryland Prisons

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter

Dozens of violent criminals have taken advantage of Maryland’s lenient drug treatment programs to shave months or even years off their prison sentences, The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday.

Maryland law allows inmates to enroll in drug treatment programs long before they’re eligible for parole, giving many violent criminals the chance they need to get to a low-security rehab center from which they can disappear. A slew of inmates have used the loophole for years, including armed robber Sheirod Saunders, who escaped from a Baltimore rehab center after serving just three years of his eight-year sentence.

“We have very serious, high-risk offenders receiving sentencing modifications and absconding from treatment,” Lisa Smith of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office told the Sun. “That is a very serious public safety concern for us.”

Maryland adopted the law more than a decade ago in hopes of helping drug-addicted and non-violent inmates, but the legal language doesn’t prevent violent offenders from taking advantage of it as well. Now, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed legislation that would close the loophole.

“A largely unknown and secretive legal loophole that allows violent criminals out of jail before they are even eligible for parole is extremely dangerous and needs to be ended immediately,” Hogan’s office said in a statement. “This is a worthwhile program, but it is being abused in ways the original supporters and most Marylanders could have never imagined.”

The most radical exploitations of the current law include a man escaping prison after serving less than two years of his 23-year armed robbery sentence, and another man who escaped after serving one year of his six-year sentence for first-degree burglary. The loophole has become widely known among inmates and corrections officers are seeing an increase in applications for drug treatment.

“A lot of the offenders view this as a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Laura Martin, president of Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association. “We listen in on calls from inmates. A lot of the comments from the inmates are, ‘I’m just going to say I have a drug problem and I’m going to get out early.'”

Lawmakers in states across the country are pushing for drug treatment programs like Maryland to combat incarcerated drug use, but most exclude violent offenders. Drug traffickers have become more and more creative in their attempts to get their paraphernalia past prison walls, including using drone drops. The drops also provide inmates with cellphones, which they can use to coordinate efforts with connections outside prisons, sometimes using them to order hits on prison guards and police officers.

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