The Baltimore Sun reported in April that Maryland’s prison population had fallen to 17,815. It was the first time the prison population was below 18,000 in 30 years. Over the last 10 years, the number of prisoners has dropped by nearly 30%. The statistics were compiled by the Vera Institute of Justice, which analyzed data from the states and from date compiled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The Justice Reinvestment Act
A major reason for the drop is the Justice Reinvestment Act, which went into effect in October 2017. The Act focused on diverting nonviolent offenders from prison to drug treatment programs.
Nonviolent crimes include:
- Drug crimes. This includes possession, manufacture, and sale of drugs provided force isn’t used.
- Property crimes. Examples include shoplifting, vandalism, burglary, and theft.
- White collar crimes. This category includes insurance fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, credit card fraud, and insider trading.
- Computer crimes. Examples include identity theft, cyberbullying, and using the Internet to freeze accounts and access to files.
The Justice Reinvestment Act was enacted due to concerns incarceration wasn’t helping with public safety. Sentences for some drug offenses were reduced. The law also removed mandatory sentencing requirements which forced people convicted of crimes into jail – even when there were extenuating circumstances. The drop, according to the acting secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety, is also due to reduced arrests in Baltimore City. (Nearly one in four Maryland inmates live in Baltimore, the Sun reports.) The Act also provided for “expanded eligibility for geriatric parole.”
We have come a long way in the last two decades
Changes to people’s perception of “the war on drugs” have helped spurred these types of change sin the legal system. In turn, they are helping to reduce the prison rate. It used to be that “a person convicted of possessing five grams of crack cocaine would get the same mandatory minimum sentence as a person possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine.” This reflected not only bias in sentencing laws, but a rather hysterical approach to curbing illegal drug use and sales. Now, after years of this failed experiment, we are finally coming around to trying less punitive and more therapeutic ways to treat addicts.
Another contributing factor to increased incarceration rates was the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 – the “three strikes” rule – which made life sentences mandatory for any felon convicted of a third offense who had two prior convictions. Reduced parole opportunities also increased the prison rate. That rule recently changed. Governor Larry Hogan has now, according to the Baltimore Sun story, released four “lifers” for parole for reasons unrelated to medical necessity.
The justice system is evolving. It is about time. At Carey Law Office, our criminal defense lawyers have the experience and resources to help you get justice. For help with any criminal charge, call us at 301-464-2500 or use our contact form to speak with a lawyer. We see clients in our Bowie and Crofton offices. We represent clients throughout the state.