See below for JUFJ’s testimony on Capital Budget FY24 – Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Carol Stern wrote this informational testimony in support of fully funding the construction of a prerelease facility in Maryland for women nearing the end of their prison sentences.
My name is Carol Stern and I am a resident of Chevy Chase, in District 16. On behalf of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), I am submitting testimony to urge this subcommittee to fully fund the capital expenses for the construction of the legally required Women’s Prerelease Facility. 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.
My religious and moral conviction that the legislature must fully fund the Women’s Prerelease Facility is shaped by the Jewish concept of tzelem elohim, which teaches that all people are created in God’s image. We all contain the Divine spark, and we all deserve to be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity. This applies to all people, whether they have been incarcerated or not. When we are working to reform our legal system, we must demand that it operates in accordance with these deeply held Jewish beliefs.
For the past four years, JUFJ has supported the Women’s Prerelease Equity Coalition’s advocacy for the establishment and operation of a new community-based standalone women’s prerelease facility to replace the Baltimore Pre-release Unit for Women. Prelease facilities provide people nearing the end of their prison sentences access to critical resources and opportunities for them to successfully return to their communities. While there are multiple such facilities for men in Maryland, there are none for women; the only one of its kind closed in 2010. This unequal treatment of incarcerated women in Maryland must end, and DPSCS must not be allowed to continue to stall the funding and construction of the Women’s Prerelease Facility.
The Gender-Responsive Prerelease Act, which became law in 2021, created a statutory obligation for the construction and operation of a women’s prerelease facility in Maryland with specific guidance and timelines. Despite being required by law, DPSCS has failed to use or request funding for this project since FY21. In 2022, the Women’s Prerelease Equity Coalition pushed to get the first part of the planning phase funded; however, the $2 million that was pre-authorized last year was subsequently removed from the proposed FY24 budget. To avoid further delay on implementation, this committee must fully fund the project.
Life after incarceration is challenging, especially for incarcerated women, the majority of whom are single mothers who will return home needing to support and care for their children. Family and community support, gender-responsive therapeutic services, job training, housing, and addiction programs are essential for this transition to be successful. Lacking access to prerelease programs and services, many women are released with no long-term home plan and no means of stable income. By establishing a Women’s Prerelease Facility, the state will address a long-standing inequity for incarcerated women, reduce recidivism by removing barriers to their success, and improve the lives of their children, families, and communities.
On behalf of Jews United for Justice, I respectfully urge this subcommittee to fully fund the capital expenses for the Women’s Prerelease Facility.