Criminal Justice System Reform
As part of a larger effort to address issues of racial justice, we are supporting measures for Criminal Justice Reform and Police Accountability
In this case, the structures of privilege and oppression are themselves multi-faceted and intertwined. The Baltimore uprising in April showed the level of frustration with the social and criminal justice system that has been building over years and demonstrated that we must take an active role. Many UUs have urged us to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and we have. However, it would be a mistake to say that we have adopted BLM as a UULM-MD legislative priority. The fact is that racism is much broader, and we are only focusing on a small but important part of it when we deal with criminal justice. Granted, it is the abuse and killing of African Americans by police that has been the trigger for protests and outrage, and significantly raised awareness among whites and the existing power structure. But before that, Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow” also confronted us with the oppressiveness of the criminal justice system (of which police are a part).
Toward a More Equitable Criminal Justice System
UULM-MD is supporting MAJR (Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform) and several of their Alliance’s bills, including:
HB698/SB362: Amends the Public Information Act and allows complaints against police officers to be open to the public. At present they are closed personnel records. This bill would only affect complaints of misconduct, all other personnel information would remain closed. This bill would greatly increase transparency and community policing. Sponsors are Delegate Erek Barron and Senator Joan Carter Conway
HB1157/SB879: The Maryland Pretrial Justice Reinvestment Act of 2017. This bill; a)calls for a State Pretrial Resource Center to help counties to set up and improve pretrial release programs; b)risk assessment coordinated by the state to disfavor cash bail, and c) begins with low-cost pilot programs in Baltimore City, one suburban county, and one rural county, all effective 1/1/18, eventually leading to effective statewide pretrial release programs. Sponsors are Delegate Kathleen Dumais and Senator Delores Kelley
HB1390/SB880: Criminal Procedure; Pretrial Release. Restates new Court bail rules that would result in disfavoring cash bail in favor of risk assessment guidelines that would give judges discretion to institute programs in lieu of incarceration, including court notices, mental health and drug programs, and employment assistance. Sponsored by Delegate Erek Barron and Senator Delores Kelley
In 2017, UULM-MD is working in conjunctions with the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) in support of legislation to reform the pretrial release system. Currently:
- there are arbitrary and inconsistent bail practices between different judges and counties,
- economic and de facto racial discrimination results,
- low risk defendants in detention become higher risk defendants, and
- those who are held in jail pending violations of probation may serve longer than the original penalties.
Ultimately, the system victimizes those unable to afford to post money to secure their release and imposes undue burdens on defendants, families and communities even if release is secured.
This bill seeks to reduce overuse of pretrial detention that currently causes adverse impact to even low-risk citizens if they are unable to pay even small bail amounts. Taking a comprehensive approach, the Pretrial-Justice Reinvestment (PJR) act would task the newly formed Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board (JROB) with study of detention center and bail data. The expected outcomes would include:
- design an efficient, data-driven system to reduce pretrial detention and save taxpayer funds
- adopt nondiscriminatory risk screening
- support state-assisted local pilot programs to follow best-practice and reduce pretrial detention
- expand the use of citations in appropriate cases
- direct earlier screening of citizen complaints and diversion by prosecutors.
For more detail see http://www.ma4jr.org/pretrial-fact-sheet/
In this effort, non-legislative officials have indicated support for reform. Attorney General Brian Frosh has issued an opinion indicating that the rule governing conditions of pretrial release “as it is being applied, violates both the due process rights of defendants and the Constitutional prohibition against excessive bail.” This has led to action by the Rules Committee of Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to propose rule changes to favor release under the least onerous conditions necessary to ensure appearance in court and the safety of the community. In taking this action, the Rules Committee has recognized that “not infrequently, money bail is being set in amounts that many defendants cannot afford. This results in those defendants being incarcerated, prior to trial, for no reason other than poverty.”