With its crosshairs locked on Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's new strategic crime plan reeks of scary, 1980s type criminal justice tactics that have proven to be discriminatory toward African-Americans and generally ineffective, reports the Baltimore Sun.
Several of the “highlights” of his strategy include: a new council on gangs and criminal networks comprised of prosecutors and police (with no advocates for defendants), new shared criminal intelligence collaborations, the use of various agencies to police Baltimore, additional parole and probation officers, aggressive warrant sweeps and — most troubling — new legislation to increase or add mandatory minimum sentences and assure that sentences are always served to their fullest extent.
This is old school, tough-on-crime rhetoric. Such talk incorporates typical shock-and-awe anecdotes to force legislative bodies to pass new, stiffer penalties. However, it's never backed by empirical data showing that heightened sentences or an increased law enforcement presence do anything more than lock more people up while creating an occupying force in certain neighborhoods.
We need to be careful that the governor's plan isn't just a reactionary, do-something approach when Baltimore citizens' fundamental rights are at stake and more effective violence reduction strategies exist.
The proposed crime plan would take us in the opposite direction of last year's Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA). Justice reinvestment is a national movement that calls for decriminalization of minor offenses (like marijuana possession and some criminal traffic charges) and reductions in sentencing for many non-violent offenses in an effort to reduce incarceration. Maryland's JRA did three important things. First, it reduced penalties for possession of hard drugs (and made similar changes to theft laws). Second, it eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing in drug cases. Third, it lessened the sting from minor probation infractions. These were progressive, long overdue moves that directly benefit the targets of the drug war — in Baltimore it's young black men — who are policed and prosecuted more heavily than other populations and who will be most negatively affected by the governor's plan.
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