When Success Fails: Maryland Cuts Drug Treatment Program

(A view of Baltimore’s City Hall and downtown area)

Innovative programs that support nonprofits are often nixed before any meaningful results come in, thus spoiling the opportunity to acquire data on new systems designed to address society’s most pressing issues. Recent news out of Maryland, however, shows that even a program’s success does not always guarantee its longevity.

On Halloween weekend, Maryland discontinued a program that diverted funding earmarked for the state’s correctional facilities to nonprofits that helped counsel drug addicts. The program – called The Public Safety Compact – took savings from lower incarceration rates and supported nonprofit organizations that helped find former addicts jobs, as well as provide ongoing support that kept them sober.

One individual from the program, Baye Parker, remarked on the discontinuation: “For me, it’s baffling because it’s great government. I don’t understand why you would try to break something that’s working.”

The cancellation of the program effectively shelved the release of 60 inmates set to become the next class of beneficiaries. The program was designed to benefit nonviolent inmates, and has helped secure the early release of over 500 individuals who successfully completed the program.

On both federal and state levels, lawmakers and leaders are searching for more ways to lower the burden of the United States’ massive incarceration system. The country currently imprisons more if its citizens than any other country on earth, and spends upwards of $60 billion dollars in doing so.

Criminal justice reform has begun to receive some bipartisan support, but the scale of the problem is immense and will require a multi-faceted approach.

Dr. Leana Wen – the Baltimore City Health Commissioner – condemned the end of the program. She told reporters that her department is “deeply concerned about and disappointed by the state’s decision to end the Public Safety Compact program.”

She continued to discuss the importance of this type of program, one that marries government and nonprofits working hard to make a difference:

In our city, eight out of 10 who are in jail use illegal substances; four out of 10 have a diagnosed mental illness. We need to be doing more to support this population, not less. We need to expand medical treatment, not incarceration. We need to recognize and treat drug addiction as a disease.

The program is believed to have significantly cut recidivism rates for graduates, who returned to prison around a rate of 9 percent. The state average is over 40 percent. The program was nixed when state officials realized that the way the program is structured breaches Maryland’s procurement guidelines.

Instead of taking this route, state officials ought to have exercised  greater creativity. The program not only empowered nonprofits to improve the lives of those afflicted with drug addiction, but also lowered the state’s incarceration levels and saved tax payer dollars. The United States needs to create a culture that fosters this philanthropic inventiveness, not one that stifles it with bureaucratic technicalities.

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