Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University measured Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s policy to quit prosecuting drug possession and prostitution, finding no increase in citizen complaints or greater threat to public safety, reported the Baltimore Sun.
The researchers issued their results Tuesday after a
14-month study of the policy. Soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit in March
2020, Mosby announced she would cease prosecuting people for possessing drugs,
prostitution, and other nonviolent offenses. She also dismissed pending cases
of drug possession and prostitution.
Hopkins researchers found she dropped charges against 741
people. Six of those people were rearrested for violent crimes such as robbery
and assault, the researchers wrote. That’s less than 1%.
“This suggests that the vast majority of direct
beneficiaries of the policy change did not go on to commit crimes threatening
public safety,” wrote the four researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health.
Mosby has defended her policy by arguing the prosecution of
low-level, nonviolent crimes such as drug possession, open containers and
prostitution has disproportionately and harmfully affected minority
neighborhoods in Baltimore. The researchers cite statistics that 70% of
Maryland’s prison population was Black in 2018 — double the national average.
Mosby’s argued tough enforcement can end without an uptick in crime.
“This report demonstrates what we have set out to do as an
office — reimagine the criminal justice system, by promoting healthy
communities and no longer criminalizing behavioral health issues that do not
pose a public safety threat,” Mosby said in a statement.
In March 2020, she announced her policy as a way to reduce
the number of people behind bars in Maryland, where they’re at risk of
contracting the coronavirus. One year later, she announced the COVID-19 policies would be permanent.
Her policy falls in line with other progressive strategies
she brought to Baltimore. In 2019, Mosby announced she would cease prosecuting
people for possessing marijuana.
“The data proves that we must continue to move past the era
of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer just
default to the status quo of criminalizing mostly people of color for
addiction,” she said. “I appreciate the hard work and detailed analysis by the
In the Hopkins study, researchers estimate her policy
averted about 440 arrests for drug and paraphernalia possession. Almost 80% of
those arrests would have fallen on Baltimore’s Black population, the
They also counted nearly 4,000 drug-related 911 calls a
month before the policy. Afterward, the number of drug-related 911 calls fell
to about 2,500, a 37% decrease. And they counted 167 calls a month to 911 about
prostitution before the policy. That figure has declined by about five calls a
Still, researchers wrote 911 calls may have declined because
citizens knew those crimes wouldn’t be prosecuted rather than a reduction in
“We found these results very encouraging on the whole
because we know that putting people into the criminal legal system is harmful
to their mental and physical health, and it seems that Baltimore has been able
to reduce that problem without incurring a significant cost in terms of public
safety,” said Hopkins scientist Saba Rouhani, the study’s lead author.
The researchers conducted the study at the request of
Mosby’s office. They noted further study is required to know whether people who
use drugs and perform sex work are getting help when they are no longer being
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