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In the Media: Md. Expands Food Stamp Program; Lawmakers Aim to Cut Wait for Inmate Drug Treatment

Maryland State House in Annapolis.
Amaury Laporte
Maryland State House in Annapolis.

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: Maryland Expands Food Stamp Program After Lost Federal Money

"Maryland is expanding a work-training program tied to food stamps after the state returned hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal money that could have been used to help low-income residents find jobs.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to announce on Wednesday that Maryland is one of 10 states that will take part in a program called SNAP to Skills that is intended to bolster workforce training tied to the food stamp program.

"Maryland, along with about half of states, has failed to spend all of the money it receives from the federal government for that training effort. In 2014, the state spent $800,000 of a $1.3 million grant to help people on food stamps prepare for the job market. The unused money is returned to Washington and redistributed to other states.

"Roughly one-fifth of households in Maryland — and about 781,000 individuals — rely on food stamps, which is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Washington spent $1.1 billion on the program in Maryland last year."

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From the Baltimore Sun: Maryland Lawmakers Aim to Cut Wait Times for Inmate Drug Treatment

"Lakeith Lewis was two years into a 10-year prison sentence when a judge reviewing the 26-year-old's case determined he was eligible for intensive drug treatment.

"But Lewis, who had been convicted of possessing drugs with intent to distribute, spent last March to October 'just sitting around' in a Hagerstown prison waiting for a slot to open in a state-funded treatment program. Now nearing the end of six months of residential treatment in Baltimore, he calls the extra time he spent behind bars a 'waste of money.'

"Many judges, prosecutors and others agree. 'It costs about half as much to put that individual in a treatment bed,' said Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is supporting legislation to cut wait times in a program that lets judges send criminal offenders to treatment.

"The legislation would require the state to drastically reduce the wait for such inmates, which averages 167 days and can reach a year and a half. Supporters also hope to make probation and treatment — not jail — the standard response to most drug possession charges.

"It's part of a broader strategy known as justice reinvestment, which seeks to reduce prison populations and channel the savings into more effective crime-fighting programs. The effort is part of a sweeping bill that emerged from deliberations of Maryland's Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council last year.

"In addition to the drug treatment proposal, the legislation includes significant reforms to Maryland's criminal justice system. It would reduce sentences for some drug crimes and change the way Maryland decides when to release felons and how to supervise them once they are free. In a General Assembly session otherwise marked by political strife, the effort to overhaul Maryland's criminal justice strategy enjoys bipartisan support."

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From the Washington Post: Md. Police Speak out Against Drug-Decriminalization Bill

"Maryland lawmakers heard conflicting testimony Tuesday on whether the state would benefit from eliminating criminal penalties for low-level narcotics possession, with some witnesses claiming the change would encourage more drug use, while others said it would put addicts where they belong — in treatment.

"The discussion occurred during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on a bill that would decriminalize low-level possession of seven common drugs: Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, MDMA, LSD, methadone and amphetamine. Under the legislation, holding small amounts of those controlled substances would result in a civil fine of up to $500, although distributing narcotics would still be a criminal offense.

"Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), who sponsored the legislation, acknowledged that his proposal would sound radical to many people at first. But he said the state needs to focus on treatment rather than imprisonment. He called the nation’s so-called war on drugs 'madness,' saying it has led to mass incarceration, higher levels of addiction and deaths from gang violence.

"Law-enforcement officials testified against the measure, saying it would do little to reduce addiction or diminish the drug trade."

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