Criminal Justice System Reform Background
Criminal Justice System Reform
In 2015, UULM-MD made Criminal Justice Reform a Priority Issue and joined with the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) in support of legislation in this area.
In 2015, UULM-MD supported a package of bills designed to reduce low-risk prison populations; re-purpose prison funds for screening, reentry, offender employment and other services to lower recidivism and increase public safety; expand the state’s successful juvenile mediation and “restorative justice” programs to adults; allow eligible persons to shield certain non-violent misdemeanors from prospective employers; and allow partial or full restoration of employment rights, licenses, etc., if no unreasonable risk is found to public safety or others’ welfare, among other provisions.
In 2016, UULM-MD continued working with the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform in support of legislation designed to repair gaps in MD’s corrections system. SB 1005/HB 1312 - Justice Reinvestment Act proposed fixes to funding, risk-screening, diversion, reentry, employment and parole. This 96 page bill addresses and reduces over-incarceration in Maryland and creates programs and resources to help keep people out of jail and help prevent their return. You can find a summary of the bill here. The bill passed and was signed by the governor.
In 2016, we worked with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability in support of efforts to modify the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights to facilitate timely investigations of police misconduct (instead of shielding officers) and to make the process more transparent. Our efforts are ultimately aimed at raising awareness and promoting the discussion that Michelle Alexander advocated in her book, "The New Jim Crow". She told us that nothing will change unless America has a frank and serious discussion about race. We hope that pushing the issue of police accountability will help in that effort, and our support for criminal justice legislation, while important in itself, is ultimately a means toward the end of addressing the larger issues of race and privilege.
In May 2015, the Senate President and House Speaker created the joint legislative Public Safety and Policing Workgroup for the purpose of examining police training resources, recruiting and hiring practices, and community engagement policies; considering a statewide oversight panel for certain kinds of investigations; and reviewing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and its application and practice by law enforcement agencies across the State. The Workgroup issued its report in January 2016, and the House and Senate leadership introduced legislation to enact its 23 recommendations. While the reforms stopped short of requiring citizen participation in police discipline boards, it does allow local jurisdictions to include them. Additional reforms in the bill that make it easier to file police complaints and to ensure greater transparency in the complaint process are incremental. The bill passed and was signed by the governor.
UULM-MD began supporting criminal justice reform when it backed the Maryland death penalty repeal campaign and joined MD CASE (Maryland Citizens Against State Executions), the statewide coalition working to abolish the death penalty. Death Penalty Repeal – Substitution of Life Without the Possibility of Parole (SB276) was signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley on May 2, 2013. In May 2009, Governor O’Malley signed the toughest death penalty evidence legislation in the country. The measure required that capital cases be limited to those with biological evidence or DNA evidence linking the defendant to the act of murder; a videotaped, voluntary interrogation and confession of the defendant to the murder; or a video recording that conclusively links the defendant to the murder. Although full repeal was not realized that year, UULM-MD continued to work with MD CASE and its coalition partners over the next four years. Unitarian Universalists believe first and foremost in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. For us, this means every human being has inherent worth, regardless of their beliefs or their behavior. Many UUs believe that we shouldn’t put ourselves in the position of choosing who is worthy of life and who is not, because often we are wrong. Even when we are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, we can still be wrong – and the consequences of any error are too terrible to chance.