Criminal Justice Reform and Police Accountability

The goal of Criminal Justice Reform is to transform the criminal justice practices that have contributed to the huge racial inequities in our system; as part of a larger effort to address issues of racial justice.  For too long, our systems of law enforcement, prosecution and judicial decisions have been weighted against the poor and people of color. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others this year has brought home to many just how unfair and oppressive policing has been on communities of color.  

 

The large gatherings in cities across the nation and all over the world indicated something larger than previous protests by communities of color frustrated by continuing police violence. These marches were more broadly-based and indicated a fundamental change in how the larger society viewed racial injustice. This shows a greater awareness of the injustice and majority support for Black Lives Matter.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and a specially-appointed Workgroup to Address Police Accountability in the House held hearings over the summer, and the leadership of both houses have pledged to create meaningful legislation and push for changes in police training and accountability—especially, for the adoption of nonviolent alternatives to police use of force. Which means, this year the General Assembly is more likely than ever  to pass important measures to rebalance the rights of Black people against those of the police, and measures to reallocate funds from law enforcement to mental health and social services are also likely to be considered. These changes are long overdue, and we will need a strong movement to make them happen. 

 

Maryland has the HIGHEST racial disparities in our prison population in the COUNTRY! Our Unitarian Universalist values call us to use compassion, equity, and justice to change this.

Value Statement
Related Policy or Information
Children have a right to be recognized as young human beings with age-appropriate expectations and treatment.
Children who commit serious crimes are often sentenced as adults. They are also sometimes housed with other adults. They need to be protected from further abuses that can occur in such settings and never be put into solitary confinement. They deserve to be provided services to help them grow into healthy mature people who can understand their role in society and become productive citizens who able to lead sustainable independent lives.
“The time should fit the crime” - Criminal sentencing should align with the level of offense.
Some criminal offences (urinating in public) can be addressed without entering the offender into the criminal justice system. Officers have the authority to discern if a person’s behavior qualifies for a citation in court or to be booked. Not only does it benefit the offender but it helps to reduce the prison population and save taxpayers’ costs.
Humans have an innate capacity to change.
Educational growth has been proven to be one of the most effective programs that an incarcerated person can do to transform his/her ability to reenter the community as an integrated productive citizen. Classes that provide personal growth and life skills can help to improve self-development. Technical and job skill certificates can increase hiring probabilities. These opportunities need to be offered to all those residing in the prisons. Data shows that it also reduces recidivism rates. Besides the containment of a prisoner as a punishment, programs and incentives for rehabilitation need to be offered to all.
Each individual has a right to receive the complete sentence that the judiciary, including any parole opportunities.
Where an individual is sentenced to a life sentence with the possibility of parole, we should rely on the parole commission to determine if someone qualifies for parole. The current process should be amended to remove the requirement that the Governor also approve parole of those with life sentences.
Humans have an ability to adapt and change. Humans are worthy of the opportunity for second chances and forgiveness.
When a person disobeys the law; their punishment is to be separated from others and lose many of the freedoms that exist in our country. The culture of the prisons needs to be one of caring for them while they recover and rehabilitate. Opportunities to heal and change need to occur during their incarceration. When they are released all punishment should end.
Individuals completing their prison sentences need to be prepared to reenter society.
Pre-release services shoul be provided, including specialized services for women, and all fees and costs related to their sentences should be removed in order to make the transition to a normal life financially possible and sustainable.
The role of police is law enforcement focused on protecting and serving communities, not acting as a military force focused on controlling people or communities.
The training and quality of character of our officers needs to be of the highest level. Supporting community policing and strengthening their relationships needs to be a priority. Police budgets need to be examined for their priorities. Ex. How much is spent for military items as compared to police training, cameras and community building. Citizens need to be included on the advisory boards reviewing complaints and investigations about police incidents. ALL communities want a police force that they can trust and will help keep them safe.
A person should be held accountable for his/her own actions, not those of another.
An individual who particiates in a felony but not in the killing of another during the crime should not be held culpable for the murder. Maryland should amend its "felony murder" statute so that this type of first-degree murder only applies to the person who committed the homicide.
The racial/ethnic make-up of prison populations should generally reflect that of the general population.
Since African Americans make up about 31% of Maryland's population but 70% of is prison population, there is an extreme racial disparity in law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing. The juvenile system and school discipline policies need to be examined. Police training for bias awareness and socialization needs to be extensively developed. Integrated education in public schools needs to examine the availability and resources for students to understand our American history.
Solitary Confinement (called "Restrictive Housing" in Maryland) is a form of human torture.
The UN has declared that no one should experience solitary confinement, and any use for safety reasons should be limited to 15 days. Alternatives need to be seriously explored and its use discarded.