ANNAPOLIS — Jeanette Hunt felt nervous, scared and confused about where would live, receive drug rehabilitation services and find employment upon her release from Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, the only place for incarcerated women in the state.
With less than two months left before her release date, Hunt received information on transitional housing and drug treatment in Baltimore.
“I had to look through a folder to find this,” she said.
Hunt stood alongside dozens of state lawmakers, criminal justice advocates and returning citizens Thursday to encourage the opening of a women’s pre-release center, which would allow women to complete jail sentences within months of their release and smoothly transition into civilian life.
“As a woman, you can room with someone violent and you’re a nonviolent and first-time offender,” said Hunt, who served a year for burglary and roomed with a woman who stabbed her ex-boyfriend. “A pre-release center is a big deal to help women transition back into society.”
The state has several centers for men, who are jailed in a separate building and enroll in vocational programs, granted work release at local businesses and even weekly visits from family and friends.
A pre-release facility for women in Baltimore closed in 2009 to cut costs and house them all in Jessup.
That’s why state Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield (D-Montgomery County) proposed one of the most straightforward pieces of legislation this year, calling to replace the word “may” with “shall” in regard to the commissioner of corrections operating a pre-release unit for women.
Washington presented her bill Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee. Crutchfield’s bill will be heard Tuesday at the House Judiciary Committee.
According to the fiscal note, it would cost $4.1 million annually for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to staff the unit.
“I say, so what?” Caylin Young, public policy counsel for the ACLU of Maryland, said at a press conference Thursday before the hearing. “You can’t put a price on the lives of our mothers, of our sisters and our daughters.”
Out for Justice, a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization that assists returning citizens through policy reform, published a pamphlet highlighting differences between incarcerated men and women.
Some of the details:
• Women released after an average of four years served, compared to nearly seven years for men.
• Women are three times more likely than men to head a single-parent household.
• The average inmate assault rate at women’s prisons is one in every 16 in 2017, compared to one in every 25 at men’s prisons.
“Women in the state of Maryland should be given the resources and opportunity to transiting back into society successfully,” said Nicole Hanson, executive director of Out for Justice. “We can no longer allow women to be shuffled out of the penal system with no support.”