UPPER MARLBORO – After a six-year wait, the Department of Corrections, together with County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, unveiled the new Community Release Center on Brown Station Road in Upper Marlboro on July 11.
Originally named the work release facility, the Community Release Center provides a “holistic” approach towards non-violent offenders. They will be housed at the center while still working their full-time jobs during their sentences. Staffed 24-hours a day, it will also have access to support groups for drug addictions.
“Our mission is to be not a place for individuals to be housed under supervision but to act as a platform by which we might equip those moving through the center with anything possible for their success,” Community Corrections Division Chief Guy R. Merritt IV said.
The $2.2 million facility was a smaller price than expected because the Department of Corrections decided to renovate and repurpose the former Imagine Foundations Public Charter School building.
County officials have been looking to establish its own new release center for the past six years. The original release program dates back to the late 1970s, housed in the County Service Building in Hyattsville. In August 1990, work release and DWI/DUI offenders shared a 100-bed residential facility in the Hyattsville Justice Center.
“Our county was the first in the state to have such a program, and now, we evolve to our community release center; recognizing our continual commitment to return offenders to the community whole as best as we can,” Bureau of Administration Deputy Director Corenne Labbé said.
Non-violent convicted offenders, those recently released from rehab and people awaiting trial will use in the complex as part of the release program. If a person has a full-time job, they will work during the day, and once they come back to the release center, facility security would conduct a pat-down and metal search before allowing the individual into the dorm space.
“It’s hard enough to find a job. Now, imagine having a record,” Kory Smith, a correctional treatment coordinator, said. “This still allows them to keep their jobs.”
Ceremony guests were allowed to tour the center, which holds 60 men and 14 women in separate dorm areas. Each dorm space has bunk beds, group bathrooms with showers, a living area couches and a television, a refrigerator and a caseworker stationed inside. The furniture is in bright colors with paintings scattered throughout the walls.
“This does not look like a facility (like) a jail,” Baker said about his tour of the center. “It looks like a place where you are starting all over again. It has some excited workers, and that is what is going to make a difference, not the structure itself. It will be the individuals that are excited to be working with the folks coming in here and make their lives better.”
Both the county’s Health and Social Services Department have been working together with corrections officials to set up programs in the center. Counselors will be available every day to help offenders with substance abuse treatments and assisting others to get acclimated to reentering the community. For those who do not have a job, there will be caseworkers at the site to help find jobs through several of the county’s back-to-work programs.
Other than possible additions of more the outdoor workout equipment, the center is ready to open and is fully staffed. Moving forward, Corrections officials will be focused on setting up community meetings with the surrounding neighborhoods and Upper Marlboro residents to assure safety and security before the first set of offenders arrive in September, Cephas said.
The reestablishment of its work release program helps the dropping population in the county jail system. According to Corrections Director Mary Lou McDonough, the daily population has dropped by a third, “from a high of 1,507 to [July 10] down to 891” prisoners.
“This huge decline is due to a number of factors,” McDonough said. “It is on a reduction of crime… but it is also based on the alternatives that we have developed as a county to incarceration including our specialty courts, community service, pre-trial release and home detention. This is just an addition to an alternative to incarceration.”