Hundreds of incarcerated women in Maryland have been denied access to prerelease programs, which provide job opportunities and other vital re-entry services, Eddie Conway and Mansa Musa reported for the Real News Network in February 2022. Their report detailed the trajectory of Maryland’s Gender-Responsive Prerelease Act, which would mandate the development of a dedicated prerelease facility for incarcerated women. The act was initially vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan in May 2020, and although the state legislature voted to override Hogan’s veto, funding to construct the women’s facility remained in jeopardy.
According to Out For Justice—a grassroots organization that advocates for reform of policies that adversely affect successful reintegration into society—Maryland maintains nine separate prerelease and minimum-security facilities for men, but none for women. Although one in ten women at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women is qualified for prerelease, as many as 30 percent of these women have not been assigned work opportunities.
Nicole Hanson-Mundell of Out For Justice told the Real News Network how prerelease programs provide women within eighteen months of release with crucial opportunities to resume working, reconnect with family, and reestablish access to medical and mental health services.
In 2021, the state legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to construct a women’s prerelease facility. However, as Hanson-Mundell described, Robert L. Green, the head of Maryland’s Department of Corrections, “decided not to spend” the money the state legislature had allocated for the facility’s construction. “That money went back into the general fund,” she explained, because the prerelease facility “is not a priority for the Department of Corrections.”
In April 2022, Maryland Matters reported that, after a two-year struggle to secure funding, the state legislature “passed a capital budget measure to funnel $2 million toward the planning and construction of a women’s pre-release center.” The article quoted Out For Justice’s Hanson-Mundell: “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.”
Prior to this success, up-to-date news coverage regarding the lack of women’s prerelease facilities in Maryland had been scarce. In January 2020, the Washington Post covered efforts to convert the Brockbridge Correctional Facility, a former maximum-security prison, into a “comprehensive prerelease, reentry, and workforce development facility” for both men and women. At the time, women’s advocates maintained that the coed design was unlikely to meet women prisoners’ needs and reflected gender discrimination. That same month, the radio station WAMU, a Washington, D.C., NPR affiliate, produced a similar report.
A key element in the Real News Network’s report is its emphasis on organizers’ repeated efforts to encourage Maryland officials to follow through with the Gender-Responsive Prerelease Act, despite opposition from the governor and corrections officials. In February 2020, the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun advocated for more services to help incarcerated Maryland women transition back to society, but the Sun’s editorial did not acknowledge the efforts by state senator Mary Washington, state delegate Charlotte Crutchfield, Out For Justice, the Maryland Justice Project, and others to shepherd this bill into law.
Eddie Conway and Mansa Musa (Charles Hopkins), interview with Nicole Hanson-Mundell, “‘It Is Torture’: Women in Maryland’s Prisons Have Nowhere to Turn,” The Real News Network, February 14, 2022.
Student Researchers: Thomas Gruttadauria, Kate Horgan, and Lydia Jankowski (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)