New Prince George's team to target repeat offenders -- Gazette.Net


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A new team of prosecutors in Prince George's County will focus on parole and probation violators in an effort to keep violent offenders off the streets.

The Collateral Offender Unit, which will begin work in October, will consist of two prosecutors and two paralegals working exclusively on identifying and prosecuting violators "who offend and, before you know it, are back on the streets offending again," said Angela Alsobrooks, county state's attorney.

The unit was made possible by a $300,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which will provide enough funding for one year, Alsobrooks said. The county must reapply for the grant each year to continue to receive funding.

"Previously, the sheer volume of cases we had made it difficult to focus in a strategic way [on repeat offenders]," Alsobrooks said. "The grant will allow us to focus."

The office is in the process of hiring the new prosecutors, Alsobooks said.

First-time parole and probation violators and repeat offenders will fall under the scope of the new unit, and prosecutions will be decided on a case-by-case basis, according to Ramon Korionoff, Alsobrooks's chief of staff and spokesman. A person on probation is usually a first-time or nonviolent offender who receives a supervised, suspended sentence for a crime as long as good behavior is maintained. Someone on parole has been granted supervised early release after being incarcerated, also conditional on maintaining good behavior.

Metropolitan regions such as Prince George's and Montgomery counties, which border Washington, D.C., and Baltimore city, have the highest populations under supervision by the state's Division of Parole and Probation, which monitors offenders statewide, said Rick Binetti, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

As of July, there were 5,886 of these offenders under supervision in Prince George's County and 4,288 in Montgomery County. In Baltimore city and Baltimore County, there were 15,476 and 5,476 offenders, respectively, under supervision, according to data from the department. There were 51,066 offenders statewide.

The new unit in Prince George's is part of a series of efforts by the state to target repeat offenders.

As part of the Violence Prevention Initiative, a program created by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in 2007, parole and probation agents have embedded with police in Baltimore city, Baltimore County and Prince George's County to identify and monitor offenders considered likely to commit violent crimes again.

State agents usually identify and request warrants for violators, who are then arrested by law enforcement agencies, Binetti said.

In fiscal 2010, there was a monthly average of 2,049 of these high-risk offenders under supervision in the state. These individuals face strict supervision from the division, must check in with a parole agent at least three times per week and can be arrested for even minor violations, Binetti said.

"If they sneeze, we [report] them," Binetti said.

As a result of the VPI, 3,044 violent offenders statewide had their parole or probation revoked during fiscal 2009 and 2010.

In Prince George's, the new unit will allow a higher volume of violation cases to be prosecuted, officials said.

If probation violators are arrested again, they will likely be sent back to the county or state facility from which they were released. Officials did not anticipate that the new unit's work will put a strain on the county's court system or correction facilities, which they said should be well-equipped to handle any increase in the prisoner population.

"I do not believe there will be any overcrowding issues for the correctional center," said Mary Lou McDonough, director of the Prince George's County Department of Corrections, adding that two new, 96-bed housing units were set to open this fall. "We will be in a good position to handle any increase in our daily population that this program may cause.”

dleaderman@gazette.net