See below for JUFJ’s testimony on funding a pre-release unit for women. A bill to establish this facility passed out of the General Assembly in a previous session, but without funding. JUFJ’s position was favorable. Carol Stern, a co-chair of the Montgomery County Leadership Council and of the Maryland Justice System Reform & Immigrant Rights team, wrote this testimony.
My name is Carol Stern, I live in District 16, in Chevy Chase and I am submitting testimony as the co-chair of the Justice System Reform & Immigration team of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) in support of funding the legally required community-based women’s prerelease unit. JUFJ organizes more than 6,000 Jewish Marylanders and allies in support of local and state campaigns for social, racial, and economic justice inspired by Jewish values.
The Jewish text that shapes my religious and moral conviction that the legislature must fund the Women’s Prerelease Facility is from Genesis Chapter 1, where we learn that humans are created in God’s image – B’tselem Elohim. We all contain the divine spark, and we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. This applies to all people, whether they have been incarcerated or not. When we are working to reform our justice system, we must demand that it operates in accordance with these deeply held Jewish beliefs.
Despite the Gender Responsive Prerelease Act becoming law in February of 2021, no progress has been made toward establishing the community-based standalone prerelease facility that this law mandates. There was $1.5 million originally allocated for this project in the FY21 budget when the legislature passed the bill in 2020, but the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) did not spend any of that money and it has subsequently been returned to the General Fund. At this rate it will be years before a prerelease center is built, which will mean women have gone without a prerelease center for close to 20 years. This legislative session, DPSCS has stated that they are including $150,000 in their operational budget request for FY23 to begin the planning phase of implementation for the Gender-Responsive Prerelease Act, but this is not clearly indicated in the proposed budget. It is clear that more funding is necessary to ensure that this law is effectively implemented in accordance with the required timeline. On behalf of JUFJ, I urge this committee to include an appropriation of $2 million in the capital budget to ensure progress is made towards the establishment of a community-based standalone women’s prerelease center, as is statutorily required.