Criminal Justice Reform

Introduction:

Maryland has the highest rate of incarceration for Black men among the 50 states.

Despite making up just 31% of the state’s total population, 70% of the prison population is Black. Our state also currently spends about $1 billion of its budget on incarceration, when that money could be better spent not just on locking people up, but working to help them build a better life and ensuring they do not end up back in prison.

Here is what my Relief, Recovery, and Reform platform will accomplish:

RELIEF

Most of those who go into law enforcement are true public servants. But as they know, this is one of those jobs where the stakes are too high for things to go wrong. So when some officers are no longer able to “protect and serve” and when arrests turn into murder, disproportionately affecting people of color and low-income communities, then measures need to be put in place to ensure better accountability, transparency and training.

We can all work together to make sure this happens, but it starts with community trust and community input. It must be made clear that our justice system is built upon the principle that justice is impartial and objective.

We need to treat drug use and addiction for what it truly is — not a crime that can be corrected with punishment, but a public health crisis requiring support for those suffering.

Criminalizing opioid addiction disproportionately affects low-income communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color. We can move past the scourge of drug use in our communities across Maryland, but we need to do it through support for those most in need, rather than pushing those in need to have to hide their problem.

This is why I would support legislation that would amend drug criminality to ensure that users that are not distributing drugs can get the help they need, rather than simply locked up with a criminal record. This will allow drug users to get out of the shadows and seek help.

While we have decriminalized marijuana, we should move to full legalization to allow for legal and safe cultivation and distribution. Marijuana has been proven to be less harmful than alcohol, and as such should be welcomed as another potential driver of the economies in addition to another potential source for tax revenue.

As we move forward, we must learn from our mistakes that brought us to the opioid crisis. We need to build supportive and open communities and take care of our neighbors when they are in need. This starts by having government institutional structures that can provide these resources and set that example — something I fully intend on building out as Governor.

Right now there is a lack of trust between communities all around Maryland and our law enforcement professionals. We must change that. While there is no quick solution, we must be patient and intentional about moving forward.

This means we need to implement policing standards that will show our communities that officers who abuse their power can and will be held accountable. This is why I want to listen to activists in their calls to ban the use of chokeholds and require de-escalation efforts in any confrontations and creating real consequences for officers that fail to live up to these standards.

We need to stop criminalizing poverty. I believe that we cannot end mass incarceration without first ending the money-bail system. I believe this is an ineffective, unfair, and racist way of approaching our prison system.

We must do all we can to end the injustice of wealth-based incarceration, many of whom are there for nonviolent offenses. More often than not, the people most likely to spend time in jail awaiting trial are not the worst offenders, but the poorest ones. These are folks who do not necessarily pose a risk to society, and can lead to real negative effects for these individuals from lost jobs to predatory bail bond debt.

Instead of penalizing and further criminalizing individuals because of their ability to afford cash bail, we should require judges to hold hearings shortly after an arrest to determine whether a defendant can be safely released before trial. Rich and poor should be treated alike and treated fairly.

Ending solitary confinement is an inhumane punishment. It has proven to increase violent behaviors rather than decrease it as it is intended to. It can also cause psychological harm, especially to those suffering from mental illnesses. As Governor, I will ensure Maryland prisons do not employ this practice.

While 23 states have abolished extreme sentencing for children — such as life without the possibility of parole — in Maryland, over 200 people are currently incarcerated who were sentenced in their youth to life in prison. On top of this sickening statistic lies the fact that three-quarters of those 200 Marylanders who received life sentences in their youth are African American, pointing to a large racial bias. We must eliminate this practice, and I pledge to do so as Governor.

We should reallocate public safety funding to expand necessary services that would reduce police officer’s need to respond to incidents with a mentally ill individual or involving ongoing social work issues. This will involve growing our workforce of social workers and ensuring that those suffering from addiction have access to professionals that can support them in dealing with their substance abuse problem. This can help people having a mental health crisis get the help they need rather than put them in harm’s way.

RECOVERY

When someone has completed their time in prison, we need to ensure that we help set them up to be as successful as possible in reentering society.

If our justice system is truly doing its job, it would be doing everything possible to rehabilitate offenders and prepare them to return to society in a sustainable and successful way. This would reduce recidivism and allow people to live better, healthier lives.

However, between court-mandated fines, fees and applications, let alone struggling to even get a new form of identification that is widely accepted, many ex-offenders have an extremely difficult time with reentry. Furthermore, when people return home, the system is practically set up to lead people back to prison.

  • When they are returning from prison they need housing but can be excluded from Section 8 support;
  • They need a job, but can be discriminated against by employers;
  • They need healthcare, but can suffer from a gap in coverage when excluded from Medicaid during their time in prison;
  • And if they want to start a new path and pursue higher education opportunities, they cannot qualify for Pell Grants during their time of incarceration.

People’s time incarcerated should give them access to opportunities to right their path, not set them back to make it that much harder to get by. That’s why I want to build a new justice system on the foundation of rehabilitation over just locking people away.

This means we need to allow incarcerated Marylanders to spend their time incarcerated to build themselves up. They should be allowed and encouraged to study and receive their high school diplomas, college degrees, and professional skills to set them up for success.

REFORM

No one is above the law and that especially includes those who enforce it. Because law enforcement officers’ actions and reactions, even if well intentioned, can have deadly consequences for our residents, it is important that we hold them to the highest standard.

In this day and age, we need to acknowledge and confront the truth of white privilege and rebuild police departments that do not see black and brown bodies as immediate threats. It is essential that individuals serving and protecting our communities are able to identify their own implicit biases, which can significantly impact the way they interact with various community members and how they conduct investigations or analyze information and react to tense situations.

While bias cannot necessarily be eradicated, training promotes increased awareness — a positive step forward in mitigating systemic problems that are harming communities throughout the state and building trust between the police and our residents.

While training is a step, I believe we need to go much further in enforcing laws already on the books and bolstering them to create lasting and impactful reforms to policing that will create safer communities, rebuild trust, and save lives.

Body cameras are not going to solve our problem overnight. They are not going to stop police brutality nor will their use automatically rebuild community trust. That said, they are an important tool that we can use to hold police officers accountable. This is why must move on from the 2015 Commission Regarding the Implementation and Use of Body Cameras by Law Enforcement Officers and move toward making body camera usage a regular and expected occurrence among Maryland law enforcement.

There are numerous additional reforms we must include in mandating body camera use, including access to the footage by key oversight officials and subjects of the footage, ensuring officers are not allowed to view the footage before any disciplinary review, and ensuring that privacy laws are updated to protect those recorded in this footage.

Like the other reforms mentioned, there is no one solution to repairing the relationship between law enforcement and our communities. I believe in the importance of unions in ensuring a fair environment for workers.

However, reforming how police union contracts are negotiated and what they contain can ensure that we do not have these powerful unions protecting bad officers that are not befitting of their badge and the responsibility it represents.

We must ensure that union contracts do not inhibit the ability for officers to be investigated for misconduct or after deadly use of force. Likewise, we need to ensure our union contracts are not hindering the ability of police departments to hold officers accountable for reported misconduct, their accountability to civilian leadership, or hide officers’ histories of misconduct.

If we are to move forward toward better law enforcement, we need to ensure that departments and civilian leaders are allowed to hold officers accountable without having their hands tied.

Another important reform to ensure police accountability is the formation of independent investigatory bodies for police misconduct and police involved shootings as well as independent prosecution.

These bodies should include an independent special prosecutor’s office that should be required to prosecute all cases where a police officer kills or seriously injures someone, especially in cases where a death occurs to someone in police custody. They should have the resources to investigate and report their findings to the public so our communities can trust the process that will ensure our police officers are held to the highest standard.

Likewise, communities should feel that they have a way to provide direct input and accountability that will be heard and acted on. That is why I want to provide resources for our localities to establish panels for community members to review police policies, provide disciplinary recommendations, and ensure community voices have a say in how they are policed.

I believe that police departments should make it regular practice to field surveys in the communities they serve to ensure they are adapting to the needs of their communities. These survey answers should be acted on to determine how departments can better serve, including investigating any misconduct reported through such surveys.

Finally, when it comes to a specific example of local oversight, I believe it is well past time that we return Baltimore City Police Department to the oversight of the elected city leaders of Baltimore. This will ensure that they are overseen by their community directly, rather than by the Maryland General Assembly broadly.

As we did during the Coronavirus, we should only deport undocumented foreign nationals who have committed violent crimes and pose a threat to public safety.

We must make it clear to our undocumented community that if you need medical treatment or would like to report a crime, that they can do so without fear of putting themselves in harms way. Under my leadership in the Governor’s Office, I would make it a priority to prevent police departments in the state from cooperating with ICE for non-violent offenders.

2022 MD Governor Candidate — cancer survivor, MD native, public school grad, Obama-Biden alum #OurVoiceOurVote — Archana Gupta, Treas.

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