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Should Maryland put treatment over incarceration for nonviolent crimes?

Statistics show that the prison population here in Maryland currently sits at over 20,000 people and that the cost of running the state's prison system is more than $1 billion per year.

While most people would understandably be shocked by these figures, they may nevertheless find some solace in the belief that the majority of those currently behind bars have committed some type of violent or otherwise serious crime, and, at the very least, are no longer a risk to themselves or the general public.

As it turns out, however, this is actually far from the reality.

Indeed, a recently released report compiled by a commission of local and state officials with the assistance of the Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that more than 50 percent of the people currently sent to state prison commit nonviolent offenses and now spend more time incarcerated than they did just ten years ago.

As grim as this sounds, the commission, tasked with the duty of devising solutions to the state's prison problem, did come up with 19 separate solutions for both Governor Larry Hogan and legislative leaders to consider.

Chief among these was the recommendation that many nonviolent offenders be sent to treatment programs specifically designed to address underlying addiction issues or mental health concerns as opposed to prison.

This move, they argued, could translate into almost $247 million in savings over the next decade and, perhaps more significantly, help stop the so-called revolving door through which people move in and out of prison.      

It remains to be seen how receptive state lawmakers will be to these recommendations when they reconvene in Annapolis in 2016. What are your thoughts on the idea of a greater reliance on treatment for nonviolent offenders?

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