Nothing begs for justice policy overhaul and innovation more than the need to reduce recidivism rates in Maryland and Kent County State’s Attorney Bryan DiGregory and his team at Kent County Comprehensive Recidivism Reduction Project (RRP) aim to do that.
According to the non-profit incarceration research organization Prison Policy Initiative, Maryland has one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the country, with 32,000 Marylanders currently incarcerated in State and Federal prisons and jails.
Close to half of those released will become repeat offenders and be reincarcerated within 3 years. But breaking the cycle of recidivism is a hard lift, stymied by inadequate mental health funding, lack of connection to available resources, poverty, employment, and housing issues, to name a few.
In other words, what are the options when the cell door opens?
DiGregory and RRP have undertaken a unique initiative to break the cycle of offenders returning to the justice system. With a current recidivism rate mirroring that of Maryland at approximately 45%, the county recognized the need for a comprehensive strategy to approach the problem differently—to engage offenders on a personal level.
The holistic approach acknowledges that waiting until an individual is ready to leave a detention center is too late. Instead, the prosecutor’s discretion becomes pivotal in initiating the process early on, affecting sentencing, charges, pretrial procedures, and collaboration with law enforcement. By exercising this discretion, the prosecutor can redirect cases, identifying and diverting individuals to his team at the earliest stages.
Acting as a bridge between incarceration and reentering life, RRP personally assists incarcerated and newly released people by formulating plans according to the individual’s needs.
“What we’re finding is, when somebody comes to us or is even just being released from jail, they might not have any state-issued ID or driver’s license. They might not even have any housing. Sowe’re starting from that place with some of these folks. And then we’re working towards workforce development and adult skills, bringing them towards getting employment,” Case Manager Christine Chisolm says.
The newly implemented pilot program aligns with similar initiatives nationwide, drawing inspiration from Baltimore’s District Court Re-Entry Program (DCREP). While not a carbon copy, the Kent County project adapts and learns from these experiences, continuously refining its approach. The objective is clear for the next two years: lower recidivism 10% by coordinating efforts, integrating existing resources, and engaging the community.
The program, operational since July 2023, is an evolving model, aiming to unite disparate resources under a cohesive framework. However, the challenges are significant, primarily in ensuring all stakeholders are on the same page, fostering collaboration among diverse agencies, and educating the community about this novel approach.
Crucially, the project has received support from the public defender’s office, with ongoing collaboration to tailor paths for represented individuals. Judges play a pivotal role in accepting and implementing recommendations, contributing to the success of the initiative.
DeGregory emphasizes the need for a case-by-case assessment rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, and the project’s success hinges on the community’s active involvement, from employers to faith-based organizations, creating a supportive environment for successful reintegration.
Here are the highlights of the Spy’s conversation with State’s Attorney Bryan DiGregory, Project Manager Hope Clark, and Case Manager Christine Chisolm.
This video is approximately ten minutes in length.