Criminal Justice Reform -2015 Legislative Session
Towards a More Equitable Criminal Justice System
Arrests and incarceration unfairly target the most vulnerable populations: Persons of color, the homeless and those with drug dependence and/or mental illness. The jails are overcrowded resulting in inhumane conditions. Those needing treatment do not get adequate medications or therapy. Those with criminal records are unable to obtain housing and employment.
In Maryland, about 33 percent of the under-18 population is black, according to 2013 U.S. Census figures, while about 59 percent of incarcerated youths in the state are black.
During the 2015 Maryland General Assembly Session, UULM-MD worked in support of the following bills:
SB0602/HB0388 - Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (The bill passed and was signed by the Governor.)
Maryland’s incarceration rate tripled between 1980 and 2001, including a 52 per cent increase for nonviolent offenders. In 2014, Maryland pays about $38,000 per year per prison inmate.
Yet Maryland’s crime rate did not drop in proportion to this massive increase in incarceration and its burden on the taxpayers. In fact, Maryland’s mass incarceration policies don’t work effectively to ensure public safety. In recent years, between 41 and 51% of Maryland prison inmates who complete their sentences recidivate—committing new offenses that return them to prison within three years.
This bipartisan initiative will establish the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council in the Governor's Office to develop a statewide policy to reduce spending on corrections and reinvest in strategies to increase public safety and reduce recidivism. In a time when budget cuts are a high priority, this process will designate program savings back into expanding rehabilitation and other improvements to creating a more just and humane system.
SB0526/HB0244 - Maryland Second Chance Act of 2015 (The bill passed with amendments and was signed by the Governor.)
A criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly 50 percent. The effect is even more pronounced for African American men. Maryland lags behind many other states in enacting this reform policy. The Maryland Second Chance Act of 2015 would allow individuals to petition the court to shield certain nonviolent misdemeanor convictions three years after satisfying any mandatory supervisory obligations.
SB111/HB303 - Inmates - Life Imprisonment - Parole Reform (The bill remained in committee.)
Many are serving parole-eligible life sentences in Maryland for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger. They were sentenced with the understanding that if they proved themselves genuinely rehabilitated they would be paroled. In fact, they are now more likely to die in prison, often after serving many more decades than anyone expected. This is because Maryland's system is one of only three in the country where the Governor must approve parole for lifers. The result is that among this group of lifers are individuals who have been rehabilitated, who have done everything asked of them, who have even earned forgiveness and support of victims' family members and the Parole Commission, but who continue to languish in prison, at taxpayers' expense, until they die.
The legislation will restore faith in the system, giving those incarcerated incentive to change. Future savings could be used for more humane purposes such as rehabilitation services, schools, recreation centers, and treatment programs.