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Decline in Baltimore city incarceration rate drives statewide drop

Decline in Baltimore city incarceration rate drives statewide drop

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Maryland’s prison population had decreased over the last decade, mostly driven by a 30 percent drop in the number of people incarcerated in Baltimore City.

The numbers were part of a presentation made to a state panel charged with looking at reducing costs by further cutting the state prison population.

“If not for Baltimore City, the state’s prison population would have grown,” said Felicity Rose, a senior associate for the Crime and Justice Institute. “The share of offenders from Baltimore City went down 30 percent.”

Rose said that overall, Baltimore City still tops the list of the state’s 24 major jurisdictions, in terms of the proportion of its residents who are incarcerated. The next 12 jurisdictions are all rural counties in western and southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

Overall in Maryland, the number of people incarcerated in the state has decreased 5 percent over the last decade. Still, Rose said, Baltimore City and Baltimore County are the largest overall contributors to the prison population in the state.

The decline in Baltimore comes after a period that included a large number of arrests. In 2005, during then-Mayor Martin O’Malley’s tenure, more than 100,000 people were arrested in a city of nearly 650,000 residents.

Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe Tuesday asked if the declines might be driven by longer pre-trial incarcerations. Rose said researchers believe there have been fewer arrests driving the declines in incarceration.

“We believe that it has to do with more of the front end — fewer arrests, fewer charges, fewer convictions — rather than a change in the percentage of people sentenced to prison versus probation,” Rose told the panel.

The data was part of a presentation Tuesday to the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council by the institute and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The 21-member panel of lawmakers, prosecutors, attorneys and government officials and law enforcement experts is charged with reviewing state sentencing, parole and probation policies with an eye on reducing both the number of people incarcerated and costs within the criminal justice system.

The council is expected to make recommendations on potential changes by the end of the year.

“We’ve got a big charge ahead of us and a lot of information,” said Christopher Shank, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention and chairman of the panel.

The bi-partisan council is one of three groups created this year that are charged with looking at criminal justice issues. Another panel is tasked with making recommendation on body cameras and police. A third group is studying  law enforcement training and criminal justice issues.

The data also showed that the percentage of the black population has decreased only slightly since 1995 and still makes up 71 percent of the total number of people incarcerated in the state. Black offenders also typically serve longer sentences and are less likely to be paroled.

“We don’t believe it’s specifically the offense,” Rose told the panel. “It could also be a criminal history issue.”

Members of the panel said the group needs to look harder into the issue of pre-trial incarceration.

“Out of all of the data that we’ve seen the most stunning numbers concern race,” said Del. Erek L. Barron, D-Prince George’s County. “What we saw today is that we, black males, are having significantly longer sentences. A major driver of racial disparities is pre-trial, pre-trial detention. So, if we are serious about addressing those numbers, and I think we are, then I think we have to look at pre-trial detention.”

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