BALTIMORE — With Maryland’s General Assembly session set to start next month, a new proposed bill aims to help nonviolent offenders continue in their caretaking roles after sentencing.

Sponsored by Del. Lesley Lopez, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, the bill would allow judges to send offenders to community-based alternatives to prison or home confinement if they’re primary caretakers of children or elderly relatives.

Ava Levine, an intern for the Maryland Justice Project, pointed out the legislation will be a boon to women because research shows about two-thirds of incarcerated women in the United States are the primary caretaker of a child.

“When you send these primary caretakers to prison, it prevents parents from being with their children,” Levine explained. “A lot of these children will end up in foster care, or they’ll end up being cared for by different family members. And we really just believe in keeping that family unit together.”

She noted anyone convicted of an offense the judge thinks would pose harm to a child would not be eligible for the proposed law. The Primary Caretaker Bill will be introduced when the 2022 session opens on January 12th.

Levine noted similar legislation was recommended in 2018 but did not get much traction among Maryland lawmakers. She thinks it will have more impact now because it will especially help women and men of color. Over the past few years, studies have shown they are incarcerated at much higher rates in Maryland than white residents.

“Incarceration statistics are quite appalling as to how they affect people of color in the state,” Levine asserted. “Maryland’s population is only about 30% Black whereas the prison population is about 70%, Black. So that is quite shocking the difference in that statistic.”

Studies have shown a connection between the incarceration of a parent and the development of children’s behavioral issues, according to the Maryland Governor’s Office for Children. Data also pointed to poor academic outcomes for kids with incarcerated parents.

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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