Participants in OSI-Baltimore summit call for reforms in criminal justice, health and employment

About 700 people attended OSI-Baltimore's summit to propose reforms in criminal justice, health and employment

Nearly 700 people sought solutions to Baltimore's most difficult challenges in criminal justice, unemployment, and mental health and addiction Saturday at an all-day summit sponsored by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore.

Attendees voted by text to recommend priorities for the new mayor and City Council.

"Good ideas become great ideas when we work together, and I do look forward to receiving your recommendations," Mayor Catherine E. Pugh told the crowd at the War Memorial building. "I believe that what the city needs is bold leadership, someone who will pull the trigger on things that aren't working and say, 'Just because we did it this way doesn't mean we have to continue to do it that way.'"

The Open Society Institute-Baltimore has been meeting for months with specialists in mental health, addictions services, juvenile justice, economic development and other areas to develop strategies. Groups made recommendations, then presented a pared-down list to community members Saturday.

Participants made 16 recommendations. They called for more apprenticeships and internships, legal help on criminal record expungement and child support cases, and assistance with transportation, housing and child care, all to promote employment.

To help reform the juvenile justice system, participants said, the city should link city schools students with social workers to help with family challenges. And to combat drug addiction, they said, officials should publish an inventory of treatment and service providers that shows levels of care, services, eligibility and accepted insurance.

Christina Flowers, an advocate for the homeless, said she attended the summit to discuss finding permanent housing for people living on the street.

She said attacks on homeless people by other homeless people are increasing.

"We should be in a state of emergency for our homeless population," she said. "Housing is the solution. ... We see on the street the lack of services and how inaccessible some of the services are."

"I'm just hopeful that with some of these problems, we'll leave here knowing what's next," she said.

Pugh, who was inaugurated Tuesday, said generating jobs will be one of her administration's highest priorities.

She said more city contracts and investor support should go to businesses owned by ex-offenders, local entrepreneurs should be included in new development projects, and workforce training programs should be matched to employer needs and taken by "mobile units" to neighborhoods with high unemployment.

Pugh pledged to continue working with the Department of Justice to reform the city Police Department, to increase foot patrols without increasing the number of officers and to build on reforms such as body cameras, diversity training and incentives for police to live in the city.

"We must address the police and community divide and improve neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades, leaving the impression that we are at war with our own citizens," she said.

Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore, said the summit was aimed at creating "a community-driven agenda" by exploring answers to questions that have come up since the riots of last year. The event was timed to coincide with the arrival a new mayor and City Council.

"The uprising brought a flood of new and renewed interest in making important systemic change in Baltimore," Morris said, "and we and many of you wanted to make sure that this new energy and activism would not dissipate or — worse — harden into cynicism."

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, encouraged community members to demand action from city leaders to end decades of economic and racial segregation in neighborhoods.

She suggested developers should be required to show in their plans how they would reduce segregation.

"I am over the constant lamentation of the problems in Baltimore that we talk about over and over and over in an endless loop that never ends in solutions," said Ifill, who taught at the University of Maryland's law school for 20 years and ran legal clinics there.

But "until we deal with economic and racial segregation of this city," she said, "we will not be able to resolve many of the problems you are engaged in today."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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