By Alexander Ramirez
BALTIMORE, MD – In response to the COVID-19 outbreak that still persists today, the city of Baltimore has since implemented new policies in response to the needs and dangers that the pandemic has introduced into the prison system.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has been able to confirm the success of these now one-year-old policies, including decreasing arrests without an effect on the crime rate. The policies also address the systemic inequity of mass incarceration, she claims.
“Today, America’s war on drug users is over in the city of Baltimore. We leave behind the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer default to the status quo to criminalize mostly people of color for addiction. We will develop sustainable solutions and allow our public health partners to do their part to address mental health and substance use disorder,” Mosby said.
These policies were created in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office on Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and partners from Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc., John Hopkins University, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and other stakeholders.
Public health experts were also consulted when it came to stopping the prosecution of drug possession, attempted distribution of drugs, paraphernalia possession, prostitution, trespassing, minor traffic offenses, open containers, rogue and vagabond behavior, and urinating or defecating in public.
Statistics include that 1,423 pending cases were dismissed, 1,415 warrants were quashed, and 2,000 people were released early because of executive orders by Gov. Hogan. Of the nearly 1,500 individuals with quashed warrants, only five were arrested for any other crime during the eight months following the policy change.
Because of these policies, the incarcerated population in Baltimore City is down 18 percent, there has been a 39 percent decrease in people entering the criminal justice system, violent crime is down by 20 percent since last March, and property crime is down 36 percent since last March.
Other than pursuing these offenses that only breed mistrust of the criminal system, the State Attorney’s Office has concluded that pursuing these offenses is counterproductive, given the limited resources available.
“Clearly, prosecuting low-level offenses with no public safety value is counterproductive to the limited law enforcement resources we have. When the courts open next month, I want my prosecutors working with the police and focused on violent offenses, like armed robbery, carjacking cases and drug distribution organizations that are the underbelly of the violence in Baltimore, not using valuable jury trial time on those that suffer from addiction,” said Mosby.
Other than making these policies permanent, the SAO has also begun to collaborate with the Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc., to not only reduce contact with law enforcement when it comes to these offenses, but also to provide alternatives to arrest in the form of services in areas like mental health, housing, and substance abuse.
“The concept is to provide a behavioral health rather than just a criminal response. We have known for some time that this can be an effective way to address the underlying causes of this behavior. Treatment works,” said Executive Director of BCRI, Edgar K. Wiggins.
Alexander Ramirez is a third-year Political Science major at the University of California, Davis. He hopes to hone his writing skills in preparation for the inevitable time of graduation.
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