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
In 2015, UULM-MD worked with the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) to present a package of bills to the Maryland General Assembly aimed at strategies to repair gaps in our state’s corrections system. We helped pass a measure creating the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council to develop a statewide framework of sentencing and corrections policies to further reduce the State's incarcerated population, reduce spending on corrections and reinvest in strategies to increase public safety and reduce recidivism. These efforts focus on the kinds of issues raised in The New Jim Crow, particularly those related to assisting those already victimized and imprisoned by the criminal justice system. We are continuing this work in 2016.
One of the measures passed in 2015 (HB 980/SB 340), restored voting rights to individuals immediately upon discharge from incarceration. That bill was vetoed by Governor Hogan, but we joined with others to urge its override by the General Assembly. This effort was successful, and became law on March 10, 2016.
The Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council began its work in 2015 and produced a final report in December containing several recommendations for further legislation. UULM-MD has reviewed this report and the following legislation introduced at the Council’s request:
SB 1005/HB 1312 - Justice Reinvestment Act – Reduces unnecessary and costly incarceration for low-risk and nonviolent offenders; requires the Division of Parole and Probation to conduct a risk and needs assessment on each inmate in order to provide earlier drug treatment, mental health treatment, and alternative dispute resolution programs; alters how inmates earn “good conduct” credits toward sentence reduction; establishes guidelines for the use of proven-effective, “swift-and-certain,” graduated-sanctions for “technical” violations of probation and parole, rather than inflicting full suspended prison time for every violation; establishes the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board and the Local Government Justice Reinvestment Commission to provide grants for local reinvestment programs, and training for staff to implement “best practices.”
SB 1006/HB 1313 - Justice Reinvestment Act - Criminal Penalties – Reduces allowable sentences for many drug-related and other nonviolent offenses, as well as permitting fair sentence reductions retroactively for inmates serving time on the same offenses.
UULM-MD is supporting the first of these measures, but has not taken a position on the second. We are also supporting the following bills in keeping with the initiatives of MAJR:
SB 946/HB1180 - Correctional Services - Restrictive Housing - Report - Requires the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to submit an annual report to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention relating to the use of restrictive housing [solitary confinement] in correctional facilities.
SB 531/HB882- Inmates - Life Imprisonment - Parole Reform - Repeals the requirement that inmates serving a term of life imprisonment may be paroled only with the Governor's approval, leaving these decisions to the Parole Board. MAJR is seeking a meeting of faith leaders and others with the Governor to discuss this proposal.
MAJR has several other measures that it is supporting that deal with other issues, such as pre-trial release and expungement of records. You can find their list of initiatives for 2016 here: http://www.ma4jr.org/initiatives/