ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland's prison admissions fell 19 percent over the last decade, driven by a 43 percent drop in admissions in Baltimore, according to a data analysis presented to a state panel on Wednesday.
The analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts counted inmates in state prisons who are serving sentences of a year or longer. Overall, Maryland's prison population declined about 5 percent, from 22,466 to 21,326.
"Fifty-eight percent of prison admissions coming in the door were sentenced for nonviolent crimes, but there has been a statewide decline in drug offenders sentenced to prison over the last decade," said Felicity Rose, a senior associate for the Crime and Justice Institute, a partner with Pew.
Pew is gathering data for a state panel that is seeking ways to reduce spending on corrections. Wednesday's presentation was the first given to the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council. Analysts are collecting more background to try to explain the findings. The panel plans to submit recommendations to the General Assembly.
The analysis found that the average length of sentences for newly sentenced prisoners in Maryland has risen 25 percent over the last decade, with growth across all offense types.
The report noted that parolees are serving an average of nine months past their eligibility date, costing the system almost 1,600 beds.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, suggested correcting that problem could net large savings. He noted the operational cost of keeping a prisoner - about $9,800 a year, not counting capital costs - when thinking about the 1,600 beds that could be saved by releasing parolees at their eligibility date.
"So you do the 1,600 multiplied by $9,800. That's a big number," McFadden said.
The number of prisoners over 55 has doubled in the last decade, from 961 in 2005 to 1,875 in 2014.
Seventy percent of Maryland prisoners are black, and 28 percent are white, the report said. Maryland's black population is about 30 percent, and the state's white population is about 61 percent, according to the census.
Possession of drugs with intent to distribute is still the top crime for which offenders are sentenced to prison, and possession is still in the top 10 crimes for admission, the report found. Second-degree assault is the second most common crime at admission.
Prison admissions for burglary have grown 14 percent in the last decade.
Fifty-eight percent of prison admissions were for people who were on supervision, such as parole or probation, before entering prison. Also, probation revocations were down significantly in Baltimore - but up in the rest of the state, including most other large counties. Parole releases are up in the last decade but still make up less than 40 percent of all releases, the report said. Nonviolent parolees are released at around 40 percent of their aggregate sentence, even though they are eligible for release at 25 percent of their sentence served.
McFadden said he has worked for years with governors to try to increase the number of inmates paroled after they have been deemed eligible by the state parole board. McFadden said governors, for the most part, haven't been receptive, except for former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who made clemency issues a priority of his administration. McFadden said he hoped to work closely with current Gov. Larry Hogan on the issue.
"I think we really need to look at this," McFadden said.