The City of Baltimore has decided to make some rather noteworthy changes to its handling of certain types of crimes. In a bid to address the problem of mass incarceration, city officials will stop prosecuting “low-level crimes” and will instead focus more on violent offenses. This is a step that might signal a better way for the justice system to deal with the citizenry. However, there are concerns about the effects the plan might have – could Baltimore become the San Francisco of the East Coast?
Stop Prosecuting Certain Crimes
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Baltimore will no longer prosecute residents for certain crimes including drug possession, minor traffic violations, and prostitution. The Hill noted: “The move was unveiled in a press release from Mosby’s office as it reported ‘one-year success’ of policies implemented last March to not prosecute the nonviolent charges amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
The state’s attorney’s office stated that this decision last year “resulted in a decrease in arrests, no adverse impact on the crime rate, and address the systemic inequity of mass incarceration.”
The policies, which were initially implemented to decrease the chances of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, has ostensibly led to some level of success, which led to Mosby deciding to make the changes permanent.
“Today, America’s war on drug users is over in the city of Baltimore,” Mosby said in a released statement. “We leave behind the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer default to the status quo to criminalize mostly people of color for addiction.”
“We will develop sustainable solutions and allow our public health partners to do their part to address mental health and substance use disorder.
“Clearly prosecuting low-level offenses with no public safety value is counterproductive to the limited law enforcement resources we have. When the courts open next month, I want my prosecutors working with the police and focused on violent offenses, like armed robbery, carjacking cases and drug distribution organizations that are the underbelly of the violence in Baltimore, not using valuable jury trial time on those that suffer from addiction.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison also released a statement in which he promised “to work collaboratively with the State’s Attorney Office to focus on violent crimes and reducing violence in our city.” “We will continue to be responsive to the public safety needs of our residents and hold violent criminals accountable,” he said.
The policies “helped decrease the overall incarcerated population in Baltimore by about 18 percent in the past year,” according to The Hill. Moreover, the number of people being brought into the city’s criminal justice system has decreased by 39%.
Will This Plan Work?
Baltimore is not the first city to adopt these types of measures. In San Francisco, the government decided to relax its policies regarding drug use and other crimes. Since then, the city has dealt with needles lying on the ground, public drug use, and a devastating homelessness problem.
However, if Mosby’s assessment of the impact these policies had throughout 2020 is accurate, this might be a promising endeavor. Fewer people in cages for drug use would mean fewer lives ruined by the justice system and a drop in the amount of taxpayer funds used to house these individuals. So-called “victimless crimes” would not automatically result in insurmountable obstacles being placed on residents who might seek gainful employment.
It is still important to note that despite the successes seen in 2020, the new approach could still be fraught with issues. But if it is proven to benefit the city’s population over the next few years, it might be something that other major cities consider.
Read more from Jeff Charles.