SILVER SPRING — With an increasing violent-crime rate in Baltimore and officer-involved shootings in the County this year, the District 20 delegation, speaking at a forum in Silver Spring on the evening of Oct. 17, pledged work on criminal justice and police reform issues for the upcoming 2019 legislative session in Annapolis.
Sponsored by Takoma Park Mobilization and moderated by local activist Shayla Davis, the forum featured both prepared remarks and audience questions.
Democratic nominee for the House of Delegates, Lorig Charkoudian, said to an audience of about 50 people, “The way I look at criminal justice reform is how we look at discipline in schools, prison pipeline issues to how policing happens, to how we do diversion in the context of misdemeanors, to what happens to people once incarcerated and reentry [into the community],”
Facing no opponents in November’s election, Sen. Will Smith, Del. David Moon and Del. Jheanelle Wilkins joined Charkoudian at the Silver Spring Civic Building in saying they plan to address criminal sentencing reform, civilian review boards, and some of the state’s laws on expungement during the 90-day legislative session, which runs from January to April.
As sitting legislators, Smith, Moon, and Wilkins said they opposed the crime bills during the 2018 legislative session.
Wilkins mentioned the Comprehensive Crime Bill of 2018 (SB122) and the Crimes of Violence, Expungement, and Drug Treatment bill (SB101), as two of the bills drafted during that session that widened mandatory minimum-sentencing laws.
All three legislators said they voted against the two bills.
Both bills, only the latter of which passed into law, impose mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years for second violent-crime convictions.
“What I saw, from my vantage point, was a politicization of our criminal code in terms of people really being able to go back to their districts,” said Wilkins, who was appointed to the House of Delegates in 2016 following Smith’s appointment to the State Senate.
Moon, first elected in 2014 and who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, said the motivations for these bills were “entirely political.” He added that many proposed sentencing enhancements – which were “floated” by delegates representing Baltimore – would not be “evenly” applied across the state, due to the city’s recent spike in violent crime.
Moon explained that the city was also plagued by increased police misconduct, adding it was time to “burn down and reboot the Baltimore Police Department.”
Citing James Forman, Jr.,’s book “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” Smith said that minimum sentencing does not provide judicial discretion. He added that he initially voted for SB122, hoping his counterparts in the House of Delegates would alter the sentencing portions, but voted against the legislation once it came for a final vote.
Charkoudian, the lone panelist not in elected office and the person likely to replace retiring Del. Sheila Hixson, said she would oppose mandatory minimum legislation. Referring to her professional work in the city, she added that a lack of access to education and healthy food, along with preexisting drug issues, lead to kids being “born into criminal conditions.”
“If we really want to do good criminal justice reform, we also have to be doing economic justice reform, [such as] raising the minimum wage, bringing realistic jobs, building local businesses, address food deserts, [and] address transportation,” she added.
Referring to the June 2018 shooting of Robert White, Davis asked the panel if civilian review boards could be implemented across the state.
Moon explained, that after the death of Freddie Gray, the General Assembly passed legislation changing investigation procedures of officer-involved shootings but did not address the use of lethal-force conditions.
“There’s a strain of policy … transparency, civilian voting rights on review boards, make it easy for people to file and do thorough investigations that the public can follow … but none of these are going to lead to the sort of accountability people are looking for,” he added.
Smith, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2014 before being appointed to the State Senate following Jamie Raskin’s 2016 election to Congress, said that he will make it a priority to have increased civilian oversight on law enforcement agencies to address “sustained incidents of police misconduct.”
“The problem is the textbook needs to change, the training needs to change, and officers need to have more nonlethal paths at their disposal when they’re engaging in conflicts,” Smith added.
Charkoudian added she would support peer-intervention programs for police officers and additional community involvement to decide “how policing is done.”
All the panelists expressed support for expanding expungement rights and bail reform.
Expungement is defined as “information about a criminal offense is removed from court and law enforcement records,” according to printed material from the Maryland Judiciary.
Numerous convictions, such as disorderly intoxication, second-degree assault, second-degree vandalism, possession or purchase of a non-controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia, are eligible for expungement.
Smith said he supports expanding the list of expungeable convictions and implementing a system of automatic expungement.
Moon added that he often interacts with constituents who are unaware of the expungement process and often run into employment difficulties.
“The purpose of bail is that if someone is a public safety threat they need to be kept in jail until their day in court, [and] if they’re not a threat to public safety then they should be released and should be able to out in society,” Wilkins said.
She added that judges in counties with little or no pretrial services usually prefer to keep arrestees in jail even for nonviolent offenses.
During the forum, Lt. Governor candidate Susan Turnbull, who is running with Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous to challenge incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R), made an unannounced appearance to outline their criminal justice reform proposal.
Turnbull explained that she and Jealous would establish gun courts, expand violence-reduction programs, reduce the prison population through recidivism-prevention programs, tax and regulate marijuana sales, end cash bail, create innocence protection programs, protect the dignity of incarcerated women, improve the handling of rape kits, and pursue police reform.