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On the Record

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Senator invokes Brown v. Board in support of prerelease bill

Incoming state Sen. Mary Washington, shown during her swearing-in as a House delegate, says she is strongly opposed to any plan for Johns Hopkins to have its own police department. (File Photo)

Sen. Mary Washington, D-Baltimore city. (File photo)

A Baltimore state senator Thursday invoked what might be the most famous Supreme Court decision in support of what might be the shortest piece of legislation introduced in the General Assembly this session: a one-word change in a one-sentence law that she said would help ensure female convicts receive the same prerelease services as their male counterparts.

“We shouldn’t live in a state where we have separate and unequal,” Sen. Mary Washington said, alluding to the high court’s unanimous admonition in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate” public school facilities for black and white pupils are “inherently unequal.”

Washington’s measure, Senate Bill 419, would require the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide prerelease services to female convicts, rather than simply authorize the agency to do so.

The mere authorization, Washington said, has resulted in services for women that pale in comparison to those provided to men.

For example, men are provided vocational training in a variety of locations and fields, including food services, carpentry and upholstery work, while women have but one site for training, which focuses primarily on food services, said Washington, a Democrat.

The bill would change the law from “the Commissioner (of Correction) may operate a prerelease unit for women” to “the Commissioner shall operate a prerelease unit for women.”

By changing “may” to “shall,” Washington told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, on which she sits, “we’ll move towards” equality for men and women being released from prison.

Del. Charlotte Crutchfield, D-Montgomery, has introduced identical legislation in the House of Delegates. The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Feb. 26 hearing on House Bill 715.

The Department of  Public Safety and Correctional Services did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation Thursday.


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