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Justice

Lawmakers Commit State Funding to Build Women’s Pre-Release Center

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After a two-year struggle to secure funding, the legislature passed a capital budget measure to funnel $2 million toward the planning and construction of a women’s pre-release center.

“For far too long women have been denied access to pre-release services and facilities needed for successful reentry,” Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City) said. “By fully investing in the right services and supports, we can ensure that women returning to their communities after incarceration can be fully supported and lead prosperous lives.”

During the truncated 2020 legislative session, Washington successfully sponsored The Gender-Responsive Prerelease Act, which requires the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to build a community-based pre-release facility for women.

Such facilities offer rehabilitative services that can include education programs, job training opportunities, parenting workshops, counseling and medical care.

Pre-release services are offered at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, but the state does not currently have a women-only pre-release facility. According to Monica Cooper, the executive director of the Maryland Justice Project, this is an example of gender inequity in Maryland’s prison system.

“The inequality causes extreme harm to incarcerated women and girls,” Cooper said in a statement Tuesday.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) vetoed Washington’s bill in 2020 and the General Assembly overrode it during the 2021 regular session. However, the department didn’t request money to begin the planning process for the 2022 budget and only requested $150,000 in operating funds for the project in 2023.

Out of concern, members of the Women’s Prerelease Equity Coalition, in conjunction with a handful of lawmakers, lobbied for — and eventually secured — the $2 million in capital budget funds for 2024.

While proponents of Washington’s initiative consider this a win, they also say it’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to the multi-year funding required for the facility’s completion.

“There is still more investment needed and much more work to do, but we believe our coalition and committed lawmakers will keep us moving forward,” Nicole Hanson-Mundell, the executive director of Out for Justice, said.