The lack of upward mobility in Baltimore is often perpetuated by an unjust and unproductive criminal justice system that leaves streets unsafe and those incarcerated unable to contribute to society in a significant way, even after they have been released from the system. When the formerly-incarcerated are unable to find employment they cannot begin the path to upward mobility.[28] We are told that our correctional facilities are meant to be places where men and women can be rehabilitated. Yet they habitually fail to do so, leaving the same people incarcerated again and again. Our current system criminalizes poverty and prevents low income families from amassing the wealth required to improve their and their children’s lives.[29]


Our equipment and ideas lag comparable cities by decades and our police department is facing a court order to eliminate institutionalized discrimination.[30] Law enforcement in Baltimore is neither trusted nor effective. Property and violent crime are soaring, and the public’s faith in law enforcement’s ability to do anything about it is sinking. Corruption scandals in the Baltimore Police Department only make matters worse.[31] We need to take action in the short term, mid term, and long term to rebuild trust and effectiveness in the criminal justice system.


Short Term: we need to improve officer training throughout their careers, we need to increase civilian oversight of the police force, and we need to provide the technology to bring the police force up to date.


The moment Baltimore faces now is an opportunity to reset our training practices. The consent decree should be fully leveraged to generate real reform. We should provide best-in-the-nation pre-service and in-service training for our officers so they can deliver the level of services they aspire to and our residents expect. Training should be focused and scenario-based to support adult learners.[32] Alongside this, we need to institute a clear statewide “use of force” policy that protects our residents and makes it clear when force is justified and when it is not. Complaints over the use of force should be placed into an easily accessible database that tracks cases as they work their way through internal and external systems. And citizen complaints should be promptly addressed by a civilian review board with real power, not just an internal affairs committee.


We need to provide state grants to help get the Baltimore Police Department into the 21st century. Paper overtime slips and computer-less squad cars are simply unacceptable in 2018. In Los Angeles, by comparison, district commanders can, in real time, see where crime is happening, see where their units are deployed, and change those deployments as needed.[33] In Baltimore, commanders can only know what’s happening in real time if they go out and look around themselves. We could have a model police department. Instead it’s stuck in the past. Let’s invest in technology now to bring our department into this century.


Medium Term: once a person enters the criminal justice system they are the state’s responsibility until they are released. In Baltimore City the recidivism rate is 70%, in Maryland at large it is 40%.[34] This means that Maryland is effectively incarcerating people and condemning them to a life of poverty, joblessness, and re-entry into the criminal justice system. Maryland prisons and jails must provide access to addiction treatment services to better rehabilitate inmates and give them a chance at a healthy life after incarceration. The average American inmate has at best a basic level of literacy, so expecting them to reenter society hardly able to read and then get a job with a criminal record is ridiculous.[35] We know how to fix this: education and job training both inside and outside of prison. We had a funding mechanism in Baltimore City that did exactly this and cut recidivism by 90% for people in the program (from 70% to 7%).[36] In 2015 the state failed to renew that funding.[37]


The state also needs to change its approach to drug enforcement. Fifty years of fighting the spread of drugs by resorting to the incarceration of personal users has not worked. Drug addiction is a disease and we need to treat it as such, while targeting suppliers rather than users. If we can limit demand by pushing those struggling with addiction into treatment while simultaneously cracking down on suppliers we can begin to roll back the prevalence of drug use in our state.


Long Term: Stop crime before it happens. The most effective way to do this is to adequately educate our young people and give them the skills to reach full employment. When people have good-paying, fulfilling jobs they are not forced to choose a life of crime and we can build stronger, safer neighborhoods.


It should also be simpler to expunge minor crimes from a criminal record. In the current system it is too easy for someone to have a criminal record for offenses that are essentially caused by poverty, such as serving jail time for failure to pay fines that have accrued on simple traffic tickets. As long as that is the case, it is imperative that expungement programs are expanded.[38] Maryland should also expand “Ban The Box” initiatives. When inmates have served their time and been nominally rehabilitated criminal history should not follow them around preventing them from getting a job. This is especially true in cases of marijuana possession. It is becoming clearer and clearer that casual marijuana use is a danger to society because it is criminalized, not the other way around.[39] Marijuana use should be at the very least further decriminalized and it should be possible to expunge minor marijuana offenses from criminal records after a certain period of time.


Lastly, the money bail system punishes the poorest Marylanders by holding them in jail when they have not been convicted of a crime. The state is ensuring that that these residents and their families will lose that person’s income and their help at home because they cannot put up enough money to be free. There are alternatives to this system, such as unsecured bonds and pre-trial check-ins, that have been just as successful at getting defendants to appear but do not imprison low-income residents just because they do not have the required resources to make bail.[40]


The criminal justice system as currently structured in Maryland, and especially in Baltimore, holds down the poor and people of color and prevents access to upward mobility. An overhaul of the criminal justice system will make us safer and ensure that police are held accountable and also help low income workers hold their jobs and avoid going into debt or behind bars for trivial offenses.

28 The Criminalization of Poverty: How to Break the Cycle Through Policy Reform in Maryland. Baltimore, MD: Job Opportunities Task Force, January 2018, p. 56-57.

29 Ibid, p. 6-7.

30 United States of America, et. al. v. Police Department of Baltimore City, et. al., United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Consent Decree (2017), p. 1,3.

31 Prudente, Tim, “Baltimore Police Corruption Case: What’s Next After Guilty Verdict?” The Baltimore Sun, February 12, 2018.

32 Stoughton, Seth. “How Police Training Contributes to Avoidable Deaths.” The Atlantic, December, 12, 2014.

33 Berg, Nate. “Predicting Crime, LAPD-style.” The Guardian, June 25, 2014.

34 “Abell Salutes: The Public Safety Compact,” Abell Foundation, 2017.

35 National Center for Education Statistics. Literacy Behind Bars: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey, NCES 2007-473. Washington, D.C., May 2007, p. 13.

36 “Abell Salutes: The Public Safety Compact,” Abell Foundation, 2017.

37 Knezevich, “Initiative that has released inmates early into drug treatment set to end this weekend,” The Baltimore Sun, October 29, 2015.

38 The Criminalization of Poverty: How to Break the Cycle Through Policy Reform in Maryland. Baltimore, MD: Job Opportunities Task Force, January 2018, p. 6-7.

39 The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2017, p. 7-12.

40 Forrest, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” Community and Banking, Summer 2015, p. 13-14.


Short Term:

  • Better police training in-service and in the academy. Give police the tools to effectively deliver high-quality policing.

  • Strengthen police oversight with subpoena power and access to internal police records.

  • Equip officers with better technology to both see where crime is happening and deploy resources more effectively.

  • Use better systems to manage police records.


Medium Term:

  • Expand in-prison education and job-training and make sure to connect inmates with housing and similar programs once released in order to reduce recidivism.

  • Expand and regularize access to drug treatment for Maryland inmates.


Long Term:

  • Educate our citizenry to allow them to reach full employment


Expand access to expungement services for low-level offenses.

Aggressively decriminalize marijuana in Maryland. Marijuana is not substantively more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.

Reform the bail system and move away from using money bail.

  • Money bail results in the incarceration of people without a trial simply because they cannot come up with enough money.

  • Implement unsecured bonds and pre-trial probation, along with other systems, to secure appearances in court and save the state money.


Authority: Friends of J.D. Merrill, Josh K. Russakis, Treasurer.

P.O. Box 5685, Baltimore, MD 21210