Good behavior behind bars: the controversy over ‘DIM’ credits in Maryland | GUEST COMMENTARY

Good behavior behind bars: the controversy over ‘DIM’ credits in Maryland | GUEST COMMENTARY

In the wake of the September killing of tech entrepreneur Pava LaPere in Baltimore, some are calling for legislation this year to cancel incentives known as “diminution” — or “DIM” — credits, which help a cooperative prisoner earn release before their term is complete. The man charged in LaPere’s death earlier had been sentenced to a prison term that would have ended in 2027, but he was released in 2022 because of these credits.

Still, eliminating DIM credits is a truly bad idea. Why?

First, the existing DIM credit system already treats violent offenders more harshly than others, drastically reducing the credits toward sentence reduction that they and drug dealers can earn in the first place. The current system also allows corrections authorities to cancel part or all of a Maryland prisoner’s “good conduct” or other special DIM credits for even a single incident of bad behavior.

Second, as David Blumberg, long-serving chair of Maryland’s Parole Commission, has recognized, rewarding good behavior “lowers the threat of violence on our prison staff.”

Third, while the DIM proposal would make the time served on Maryland prison sentences increase by a small percentage, it would do nothing to reduce our state’s crime rate.

The Maryland Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council’s examination of criminological principles found that “adding months and years onto prison stays has little or no impact on recidivism.” More importantly, the JRCC also found that “research demonstrates that providing incentives like earned time or diminution credits in prison can reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.”

In other words, taking away hope and incentive for good behavior from Marylanders behind bars would not make us safer. It would just make our prisons more crowded, more dangerous for correctional officers and more costly for taxpayers.

Many proven strategies actually can reduce Maryland’s crime rates. In addition to good behavior incentives, the JRCC also urged legislators to adopt evidence-based practices, including:

  • Providing treatment for large categories of offenders outside of prisons and jails. These categories include drug offenders, mental health patients, nonviolent offenders and most parole or probation violators. City and county leaders should actively support such programs. Effective treatment can change behavior and reduce the possibility of new offenses.
  • Ensuring that police, prosecutors and courts all recognize, as JRCC wrote, that “swift, certain, and proportional sanctioning is more effective
    at reducing recidivism than delayed, inconsistent, and severe sanctioning.” State’s attorneys could offer incentives to expedite cases for appropriate offenders.
  • Treating young adults in the care of the prison system humanely and providing quality education and job training for each individual. Other states do this more effectively than Maryland and reduce their recidivism rates.
  • Expanding reentry support and adding transition coordinators for the 95% of prisoners who will return to our communities. Help finding housing and work is often needed, along with medical or addiction treatments, and counseling on parenting and family reintegration. When our returning citizens re-offend, most often because of problems with one or more of these fundamentals, it typically happens within the first few months of leaving prison. So, these resources can work best if front-loaded.

Our elected officials should be encouraged to make our criminal justice system more effective, not just more harsh. Removing the DIM hopes of Marylanders in prison doesn’t prevent crime and wouldn’t help rehabilitation. However, there are proven strategies that can help.

Phil Caroom ( is a senior judge who served on Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. He also serves as board chair for Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR), chair of the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board, and a committee co-chair for the Maryland Equitable Justice Collaborative. He offers the opinions above personally and not as a representative for the courts or any other state agency.


Leave a Message