Criminal Justice Reform - 2017 Legislative Session
Toward a More Equitable Criminal Justice System
2017 Pretrial Justice Reinvestment Act
In 2017, UULM-MD is working in conjunctions with the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) in support of legislation to reform the pretrial release system. Currently:
• there are arbitrary and inconsistent bail practices between different judges and counties,
• economic and de facto racial discrimination results,
• low risk defendants in detention become higher risk defendants, and
• those who are held in jail pending violations of probation may serve longer than the original penalties.
Ultimately, the system victimizes those unable to afford to post money to secure their release and imposes undue burdens on defendants, families and communities even if release is secured.
This bill seeks to reduce overuse of pretrial detention that currently causes adverse impact to even low-risk citizens if they are unable to pay even small bail amounts. Taking a comprehensive approach, the Pretrial-Justice Reinvestment (PJR) act would task the newly formed Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board (JROB) with study of detention center and bail data. The expected outcomes would include:
• design an efficient, data-driven system to reduce pretrial detention and save taxpayer funds
• adopt nondiscriminatory risk screening
• support state-assisted local pilot programs to follow best-practice and reduce pretrial detention
• expand the use of citations in appropriate cases
• direct earlier screening of citizen complaints and diversion by prosecutors.
For more detail see http://www.ma4jr.org/pretrial-fact-sheet/
In this effort, non-legislative officials have indicated support for reform. Attorney General Brian Frosh has issued an opinion indicating that the rule governing conditions of pretrial release “as it is being applied, violates both the due process rights of defendants and the Constitutional prohibition against excessive bail.” This has led to action by the Rules Committee of Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to propose rule changes to favor release under the least onerous conditions necessary to ensure appearance in court and the safety of the community. In taking this action, the Rules Committee has recognized that “not infrequently, money bail is being set in amounts that many defendants cannot afford. This results in those defendants being incarcerated, prior to trial, for no reason other than poverty.”
The Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) should be amended to allow Marylanders to learn how their complaints of police misconduct are handled. Under the recently decided case of Maryland State Police v. Dashiell, under the MPIA, victims of police misconduct have no right to learn anything about the police department's investigation of their complaints, or the discipline imposed on the officers involved. The MPIA must be reformed to allow disclosure of these records. Without transparency, there can be no accountability.
MAJR is also proposing legislation to limit the use of solitary confinement, allowing the expungement of criminal records, and removing the Governor from the parole process for inmates with life sentences with the possibility of parole. As the General Assembly session unfolds, UULM-MD will lend it support where possible.