Will 2016 Justice Reforms Lead to 2017 Pretrial Reforms?

The Washington Post‘s Ovetta Wiggins wrote this week on the passage of the mush-discussed “Justice Reinvestment” legislation, passed this session in Maryland (as many other states have effected similar measures).

Her article spoke directly about the change in state mandatory minimum sentencing policies as part of the strategy yielding the compromise bill. The bill is expected to reduce prison and jail populations, especially among non-violent drug offenders, and offer a wider range of treatment, mental health, and community oversight options instead of longer-term incarceration. From the Post:

At the bill-signing last month, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called the legislation “the largest, most comprehensive criminal-justice reform in Maryland in a generation.”

The original focus of the Justice Reinvestment Act, suggested by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and embraced by Hogan, was to figure out a way to reduce the state’s prison population and costs and help offenders reenter society.

Deliberations turned into a discussion about whether the state’s approach to crime, particularly to nonviolent drug offenders, was fair — and whether there was a better way to deal with those offenders, many of whom are drug users themselves.

One interesting note in the article is the speculation among many stakeholders that pretrial issues may be “next up” for similar attention:

Almost as soon as Hogan signed the bill into law, the advocates who had push for it announced their next target: pretrial reform.

They said that one-third of Marylanders who are behind bars are in jails, rather than prisons, and they are urging the state to turn its attention to changes in how people are held before trial — including the bail system.

With county jails holding nearly all of the pretrial population, this debate — both in terms of justice and operations — again places county governments in a central role. MACo will continue to follow and pursue these issues, as a major focus with state and local policymakers.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties