A landmark criminal justice bill targeting Maryland’s overcrowded prisons has now cleared the Maryland Senate. The bill is an attempt to correct the consequences of a decades long “War on Drugs” that has bloated prisons with nonviolent offenders. The bill passed after intense debate in the Senate, and now heads to the House of Delegates, where more questions will likely be raised. Critics fear the bill may be too lenient and pose a risk to public safety. Proponents call this scare-mongering, as judges will take each offender’s level of risk and violence into account when sentencing.
Called The Justice Reinvestment Act, the bill would implement the following:
-All 1,700 people currently serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses would be allowed the opportunity to appeal.
-Drug-possession convictions would be more easily expunged.
-Offenders convicted of drug possession would get treatment rather than prison sentencing.
-Drug offenders would be allowed the same number of credits to reduce their sentences as other nonviolent offenders.
-Reducing the disparities in sentencing between crack cocaine and the powder form of cocaine, a disparity which is notorious for incarcerating thousands of African Americans.
Similar legislation has passed in other states, including Kentucky and Pennsylvania, in response to the common problem of overcrowded prisons and over-targeted communities. In Maryland, the bill would have a significant reform effect: consider that in 2014, 58% of all prison admissions were for nonviolent offenses. Drug possession was the number one reason for sentencing to state prison.