Maryland Lawmakers Take Steps Toward Improving Resources for Returning Citizens 

While advocates across the United States observed Second Chance Month this April, a month dedicated to honoring work that aims to remove barriers faced by citizens returning from incarceration, Maryland lawmakers made some key progress in crafting reentry-focused policy. 

Two bills passed during Maryland’s 2024 legislative session, Senate Bill 1036 and Senate Bill 181, are poised to expand state resources for returning citizens in Maryland. Senate Bill 1036 establishes the Task Force on the Creation of a Division of Returning Citizens and Expanded Reentry Services. The bill ultimately requires the task force to assess reentry services existing in Maryland, identify gaps in such services, and submit a report on recommended service expansion. Individuals required to be appointed to the task force include representatives from specific governmental and nonprofit entities, as well as one individual who was formerly incarcerated in a State correctional facility, and two family members of incarcerated individuals. 

Senate Bill 181 authorizes the Governor to grant funds to certain nonprofits that provide training in automotive repair to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. The bill specifically requires qualifying nonprofits to place at least 50 percent of participants in a paid automotive repair job. This legislation is currently set to remain effective until the end of fiscal year 2028.

Senate Bills 1036 and 181 expand the type of crucial reentry planning needed in Maryland and throughout the United States in order to improve the ability of formerly incarcerated individuals to secure employment and housing. In 2022, a study of employment following incarceration found that the employment rate for individuals four years after release was between 34.9 percent and 37.9 percent, meaning about two-thirds were unemployed. Correspondingly, 570 out of every 10,000 formerly incarcerated people are housing insecure. Research also shows important cyclical connections between homelessness and recidivism, as people who have been incarcerated multiple times are more likely to become homeless, and experiencing homelessness increases one’s likelihood of reincarceration. In direct contrast, multiple studies have shown that secure housing is capable of reducing recidivism rates. Senate Bill 1036 requires the task force to “assess markers of successful reentry” in Maryland, and there is no doubt that thoughtful consideration of employment and housing resources will be required in order to prompt a change in Maryland’s recidivism rate, which currently sits at 40 percent within three years of release.  

Although they did not pass this session, two other bills focused on improving workforce development resources for returning citizens were introduced this year and are worthy of tracking in 2025. Both bills recognize the need to provide employment preparation while individuals are still incarcerated. House Bill 1405 would require DPSCS to offer an apprenticeship program in skilled trades that would equip individuals with practical job skills prior to their release and allow them to save wages while incarcerated. Senate Bill 1017 goes one step further, requiring Maryland Correctional Enterprises to develop individual employment plans for their program participants to obtain employment within the first 60 days of their parole. 

Maryland has also made an impactful reform to parole related policy this year with the passage of House Bill 531, which repeals the requirement of the Maryland Parole Commission (MPC) to collect $50 monthly supervision fees from parolees and repeals MPC’s authorization to require parolees to pay for drug and alcohol testing fees. The last comprehensive study that assessed grounds for parole revocations in Maryland found that over 70 percent of parole revocations resulting in reincarceration are for technical violations, which include the failure to pay fees to MPC. Further, reports show that between 2017 and 2021, Maryland processed 4,449 parole revocations among individuals released from state correctional facilities, and about two-thirds of such revocations were for Black individuals, exemplifying the reality that reentry issues in need of reform often present opportunities to address systemic inequity within the legal system as well. 

While the month of April has passed by quickly, the spirit of Second Chance Month is alive all year long in Maryland, as passionate advocates and individuals pursuing reentry work to build community. 

For individuals searching for free civil legal assistance in areas such as consumer issues, criminal record relief, estate planning and administration, family law, income tax controversy, and more please reach out to Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). You can access the MVLS website or call for phone intake at 410-547-6537 or (1)800-510-0050, Monday-Thursday, 9am-12pm.