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In the Media: Md. Senate Passes Criminal Justice Reform Bill; Youth Strip-Search Debate Intensifies

Maryland State House in Annapolis.
Amaury Laporte
Maryland State House in Annapolis.

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the AFRO American: Maryland Senate passes criminal justice reform bill after debate over amendments

"The Maryland Senate unanimously passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill Thursday, despite debate that amendments had limited the legislation’s scope and effect. 

"The Justice Reinvestment Act aims to reduce Maryland’s prison populations, corrections spending and recidivism rates by refocusing correctional resources on “serious and violent offenders,” according to a legislative analysis.  

"Provisions of the bill would limit punishments for technical violations of parole and alter maximum penalties for some drug offenses. The bill also establishes an administrative parole process for nonviolent offenders who have served one fourth of their sentences and meet certain requirements.  

"Sen. Michael Hough, R-Carroll and Frederick, called the bill the largest reform of the state’s criminal justice system in a generation, citing a shift toward drug treatment for people with addiction, a dramatic reduction in the use of mandatory minimums for drug crimes, and elimination of the disparity between penalties for crack and powdered cocaine.  

"While the process of crafting the bill was 'incredibly difficult,' the committee achieved a compromise that could lead to less incarceration, greater rehabilitation of offenders and savings of taxpayer dollars, he said." 

Full Article

Baltimore Sun: Lawmakers move to withhold funding from Juvenile Services as debate over strip-search and shackle policies intensifies

"Maryland lawmakers are moving to withhold $1 million from the state's juvenile justice budget as they await answers from the department about the routine use of strip searches and shackles on youths in state custody.

"In an increasingly contentious debate, child welfare and civil rights advocates are calling for an end to what they consider harmful practices, while state officials defend the practices as crucial to keeping 14 state-run facilities safe and secure.

"The Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, an independent arm of the attorney general's office, has long urged the department to abandon the 'indiscriminate' use of shackles and strip searches that they say traumatize already troubled young people. A Baltimore Sun investigation earlier this month detailed the practices used on juveniles, who are often detained briefly and for low-level offenses.

"On Thursday, Senate and House negotiators working on a state budget proposal tentatively agreed to withhold the $1 million from the department's budget until the agency turns over its written policies, as well as more detailed data on how the policies are carried out, the ages of the juveniles and the reasons for strip searches and shackling. The agency has until July 15 to comply.

"Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Sam J. Abed said the department would provide its written policies and was committed to an ongoing dialogue."

Full Article

Baltimore Sun: Focus turns to criminal justice in Senate race

"The national debate over criminal justice reform has become a central issue in the campaign for Maryland's open Senate seat, with the leading Democratic candidates clashing over each other's records on mass incarceration policies.

"Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, blames her opponent for swelling prison populations because he supported legislation in Congress to impose mandatory minimum sentences. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County has backed reducing penalties for nonviolent offenses and contends that Edwards only waded into the debate after launching her Senate campaign.

"The back-and-forth follows a bipartisan shift in thinking about tough-on-crime policies that many Democrats — including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — supported in the 1990s. It also reflects ideas that have been embraced as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Criminal justice is almost certain to emerge as an issue Friday as the candidates running to succeed Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski engage in their first televised debate. That debate is sponsored by The Baltimore Sun, WJZ-TV, the University of Baltimore and the Baltimore City League of Women Voters. The primary is set for April 26."

Full Article