Delegate, pastor call for investigation of parole system
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 12:17

The Rev. Ronald Wright and Del. Pat McDonough (7th District) say the Division of Parole and Probation is not doing enough to keep repeat offenders off the streets.

photo by Ben Boehl

Early releases, shortage of drug treatment cited

by Ben Boehl

    Seventh District Del. Pat McDonough says he is tired of seeing headlines about murders in Baltimore City and wants to know why nothing is being done about the matter.
    During an appearance at Merritt Park Baptist Church on Wednesday, McDonough said that police should not be blamed for the problem; instead, he puts the blame on the politicians, including Gov. Martin O’ Malley, and said the Division of Parole and Probation (DPP) is at fault for letting too many repeat offenders go free to commit more crimes.    
    McDonough compared the situation to revelations in recent months that state correctional officers were partnering with gang members inside the Baltimore City Detention City. Noting that a federal investigation was needed to bring the problem to public notice, he  blamed the state government for a lack of accountability.
    “[The prison scandal] was the tip of the iceberg. It is beyond that. The corruption is deep,” McDonough said. “As we have seen in Baltimore City, the murder rate and violent crime has turned into an epidemic.”
    The delegate said his research shows that of the 217 murders in Baltimore in 2012, over 75 percent of them were committed by repeat offenders.
    McDonough said he believes that if those offenders were still in prison, Baltimore City’s murder total for 2012 would have been about 60.
    “All these things have one common thread, the  [state justice] system is broken and is not protecting the citizens of Maryland,” McDonough said.
    According to McDonough, of the 3,500 prisoners in Maryland, only 350 are serving life without parole. Thus, he notes, the rest of those prisoners will be back on the street at some point.
    “When the prison scandal broke, I called for the firing of Gary Maynard [Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS)] and a grand jury investigation, but Maynard is still there.”
    McDonough is hoping to build public pressure to fire Maynard and to force a grand jury investigation of the state’s criminal justice system.
    Rick Binetti, a spokesman for DPSCS, responded that his agency does not have the legal authority to take people off and put people back “on the street.”
    “That is under the jurisdiction of the courts or the parole commission,” Binetti noted. “What (DPSCS) does is inform the court or parole commission about supervised offenders and request violation of parole or probation warrants from both as needed.”
    McDonough visited the Merritt Park Baptist Church at the invitation of the Rev. Ronald Wright, the church’s pastor.
    The church is home to Wright’s Alpha drug-treatment program, which formerly served clients from the state’s DPP program.
    The program is free, which Wright said is critical for patients who don’t have insurance or can’t otherwise pay for substance-abuse treatment.
    Wright, a former police officer, has a Ph.D. in counseling and said he has seen firsthand some of the DPP’s alleged shortcomings.
 “[DPP] agents were not following court orders, files had missing information about clients completing programs, files were handed down from agent to agent causing confusion with offenders, clients  were not being properly supervised and agents were being assigned too many cases.”
    Wright said at slightly over two years ago, he filed a complaint with the DPP about the cases of repeat offenders whose cases were being closed out with court orders not followed.
    “There are too many cases of repeat offenders that are being closed that should not have been closed,” Wright said.
    Wright estimated that there are over 100 such cases involving residents of the Dundalk and Essex areas.
    He cited the case of Dundalk resident Victoria DeAngelo, who was the driver in a head-on car collision on I-695 near the Curtis Creek Bridge that resulted in the death of a three-year-old girl last November.
    DeAngelo was also killed in the crash, and an autopsy reported that she had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in her body, in addition to a painkiller.
    Wright claimed that DeAngelo had been arrested on two previous driving under the influence charges and should have gotten help. He said DeAngelo’s mother wanted her daughter to enter the Alpha Program.
    “She had two DUIs. She should have been in treatment,” Wright said. “We tried to get her in treatment.”
     Binetti disputes that claim and said there was no court records of DeAngelo being charged with a DUI. 
    “DeAngelo was under supervision for a theft charge, not a DUI. There was no court-mandated treatment as part of her supervision,” Binetti stated. “She was compliant and near the end of the term of that supervision.”
    Wright responded that DeAngelo’s record may not be listed on Maryland Court Records because it could have been a traffic violation and according to mdcourts.gov, some traffic records are removed from the site after those cases have been closed out.
    “I think what may have occurred was that we did an evaluation for an offense. It may have been criminal or traffic,” Wright speculated. 
    “However, I know she was arrested the second time. So the point is she is still a repeat offender whether its traffic or criminal. And the system knew she had a problem. I have the evaluation showing that,” he claimed.
    Wright said he contacted Maynard as well as  DPP acting director Earnest Eley and two DPP supervisors to notify them of his concerns.
    Wright said that no one from DPP responded; he claimed that he became a target after he filed his complaint, and that a few months later, the state forbade DPP to send anyone to Wright’s Alpha Program.
    Wright said his program is still open today, but in November 2011 he was notified that drug treatment patients could not use his program for court-mandated treatment because Alpha is not a state-certified program.
    “I’ve been treating patients for 34 years and did not have any trouble being a non-certified program until I filed the complaint,” Wright said.
    Binetti responded that the Alpha Program is not a state-certified substance abuse program according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). Binetti added that the DHMH sent Wright a cease-and-desist order regarding the program.
    “He may claim he’s run a program for 34 years, but the bottom line is that it isn’t state-certified. His lack of certification has nothing to do with DPSCS,”  Binetti said.
 “Because the Alpha Program is not certified by [the state], DPSCS Community Supervision (CS) does not send any offenders there unless there is a specific court order to do so.
    “If there is a specific  court order to send an offender to that program, CS must follow it in order not to be found in contempt of court. That is what we do. There have been maybe a handful [of such instances] in the past couple of years according to CS.”
    Wright also claims there are not enough treatment programs to meet the state’s needs, Therefore, he argued, it makes no sense for the state to stop sending people in need to his program.
    “It’s not the agents’ fault. They are overwhelmed,” Wright said. “If you talk to any DPP agent, they will tell you the biggest problem is there are not enough places for people to go.”
    Binetti admitted there is a backlog of treatment slots throughout the county but denied Wright’s claim that patients are being released and not treated because of the backlog.
     “Each offender who is ordered [to get] treatment gets into a program. The county works closely with both [DPSCS] and the courts to make that happen, even if there is a wait list,” he said.