Before receiving an 18-month jail sentence for assault and theft charges at a May hearing, Jefferson resident Sherry Lee Tinsley apologized for trying to steal another woman’s purse.
At 49, Tinsley told the court she was ready to accept help for her addiction. Tinsley asked Judge Julia Martz-Fisher to limit her sentence to one that could be served in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center, where she could finish the Project 103 substance abuse treatment program.
Tinsley is one of several hundred women detained at the Frederick County jail each year. Although the number of women incarcerated locally and in Maryland state prisons is decreasing, the number of women charged with non-marijuana drug possession has increased as a percentage of the total female county jail population since 2013.
Maryland leads the country in reducing its state prison population, and locally, Frederick County bucks the national trend with a declining rate of incarcerated women.
The number of women incarcerated at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center has also decreased. However, women charged with non-marijuana drug possession charges has increased as a percentage of the female jail population.
From 2013 to 2017, the number of women annually admitted to the county jail decreased from 539 to 414, according to Frederick County Sheriff’s Office data.
In that same period, the number of women charged with possession of drugs other than marijuana more than doubled, from 11 percent of the total female intakes in 2013 to 23 percent in 2017.
Maryland had the fastest decreasing state prison population last year, according to a Vera Institute for Justice report published this month. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of people incarcerated in state prison decreased by 10 percent.
Maryland’s decrease follows a national trend of reducing incarcerated populations from their 2007 peak of almost 1.6 million people. The total U.S. prison population decreased 7 percent in the past 10 years. In that same period, Maryland’s prison population was reduced by 23 percent.
Maryland’s leading reduction in incarceration follows the 2016 passing of the Justice Reinvestment Act, which revised state sentencing guidelines. The act also made incarcerated people with mandatory-minimum sentences eligible to seek sentence modifications.
About 1,600 Marylanders incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses became eligible to seek reduced sentences, according to The Washington Post. The state prison population was down to 18,078, or 301 per 100,000, in 2017.
Frederick County courts have played their own, albeit smaller, role in reducing the incarcerated population. Since 2005, local courts have diverted more than 100 women and men from state prison and jail through its Drug Treatment Court program.
People referred to the program can avoid incarceration by completing court requirements such as addiction treatment.
Drug Treatment Court participants, like the whole criminal justice system population, are predominately male. But 37 Frederick County women have been admitted to the program in the past five years, according to program supervisor Paul Wolford.
The program has restrictions for admission, Wolford said. Probation violations, violent felony prior convictions, and sex offenses disqualify candidates from the program. They don’t accept first-time offenders or people who live outside of Frederick County.
Recent statewide jail population numbers are difficult to find. The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services does not collect data on county jails, according to department spokesman Gerard Shields.
But some research shows Frederick County is not the only county reducing its female jail population.
From 2005 to 2015, the rate of women incarcerated in Maryland jails decreased from almost 1,400 per 100,000 to 1,000 per 100,000 people, according to the Vera Institute for Justice. The female jail population rate peaked in 1996 at 1,726 per 100,000 people.
Follow Cameron Dodd on Twitter: @CameronFNP.