The Maryland ACLU and a coalition of allies came together Tuesday to urge defeat of Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposals to deal with crime in Maryland, calling them a throwback to failed policies of past decades.
Opponents of the governor’s crime package vowed to fight Hogan’s proposed bills to promote mandatory minimum sentences for repeat handgun offenses, to limit access to parole and to try more juveniles as adults.
The Republican governor proposed the measures to the General Assembly in part as a response to Baltimore’s spiking homicide rate.
Toni Holness, public policy director for the Maryland ACLU, said her group is mobilizing to fight the bills because they “threaten to take Maryland back in time.”
“These bills would bloat our prisons, waste precious taxpayer dollars and exacerbate existing racial disparities that permeate every aspect of our criminal justice system,” she said.
Holness said the governor’s policies depend on “filling our prisons with black or brown bodies.”
“They have never made us safer and they will not make us safer ever,” she said.
But Christopher B. Shank, Hogan’s chief legislative officer, rejected the criticism.
“I would characterize it as an outrageous and dishonest claim that they’re making,” he said. “It is totally contradicted by the facts of this administration.”
Shank said Hogan’s emphasis on cracking down on violent offenders is consistent with his past support for the Justice Reinvestment Act, passed two years ago in an effort to reduce incarceration for nonviolent offenses, and for initiatives to make it easier for former offenders to find jobs.
“We are prioritizing our prison beds for violent repeat offenders and that’s exactly what these bills do,” Shank said.
The opponents focused their criticism on three Hogan proposals.
One would set a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for a repeat offense involving the use of a firearm, with that sentence to be tacked on to the end of the sentence for the underlying crime.
Another would move gang-related crimes committed by minors 16 and older from the juvenile system to the adult criminal courts. The measure also would increase sentences for gang-related crimes and require that they be served consecutively with punishments on other charges.
The third would extend the time a person sentenced to life must wait for a parole hearing to 25 years rather than the current 15. The legislation also would make it harder for people convicted of violent crimes to receive parole before they have served 10 years.
Del. Mary L. Washington, a Baltimore Democrat, argued that Hogan’s approach bucks a national movement to put less emphasis on incarceration.
“Being smart on crime is not going against national trends on smart reform,” Washington said.
Neill Franklin, a retired major with the Maryland State Police, spoke against the package at the news conference and at a Senate hearing later in the day.
“At a time when many states including Maryland are moving swiftly away from excessive criminal punishments such as mandatory minimums, here we are addressing an attempt to revert back to these archaic policies of the 1980s,” said Franklin, director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. “If you don’t know how the United State became the world’s leading incarcerator, this is it.”
Cara L. Sullivan, Hogan’s deputy legislative officer, said the governor’s gang legislation is needed to combat such organizations as MS-13 and the Black Guerrilla Family.
“We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to stop these violent criminal enterprises,” she said.
However, Holness said the ACLU has grave concerns about the constitutionality of the proposal and about the governor’s definition of gang membership.
The activists’ skepticism is shared at high levels in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Tuesday that Hogan’s approach resembles that of the 1990s.
“If you’ve been here long enough, things repeat themselves,” Miller said.
The Senate chief said Baltimore in particular needs more police on the streets rather than longer jail terms.
“Mandatory sentences don’t work,” Miller said.
But Hogan’s spokesman, Doug Mayer, discounted the objections.
“I ultimately predict that what we’re putting forward on the criminal justice issue will pass in one form or another,” he said.