Study: 1 in 5 young black city men in jail

THE BALTIMORE SUN

More than half of Baltimore's African-American men in their 20s are either incarcerated or under criminal justice system supervision, according to a study being released today by a Washington-based research organization.

The Justice Policy Institute, which favors alternatives to prison, argues in its report that much of the money spent on incarceration would be better spent on drug treatment and community redevelopment. The report combines Maryland incarceration statistics with conclusions from selected sociological studies to raise questions about the efficacy of imprisonment in lowering crime.

"The basic idea is there are too many people locked up," said Eric Lotke, co-author of the report and research director for the Justice Policy Institute. "We basically said, 'We've got to tell people about this. We've got to connect these dots.'"

While many in law enforcement expressed dismay yesterday with the study's statistical findings, some argued that detention remains a vital crime-fighting component.

According to the institute's report, there are about 25,000 black men in Baltimore between the ages of 20 and 30, and 52 percent of them are incarcerated or on parole or probation. Statewide, nearly 10 percent of black men in their 20s are incarcerated in either jail or prison. In the city, the percentage is nearly 20 percent, the study found.

State corrections officials confirmed yesterday the accuracy of the incarceration figures used to derive most of those statistics.

"You've got one in five young black men living in a cage," Lotke said. "I saw that 'one in five' figure for Baltimore, and I wanted to cry."

Lotke faulted police, lawmakers, prosecutors, state and city government, and judges, contending that they are running on "autopilot" and continue to lock up more offenders, even while crime is declining.

Some officials cautioned against using the study's figures to draw conclusions about the dispensation of justice.

"You need to look a little deeper before you make one big blanket statement," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O'Malley.

She said that since being elected in 1999, the mayor has more than doubled the slots available in city-sponsored drug treatment - from 11,000 to 25,000 - and has overseen the creation of early-disposition court, which is intended to quickly resolve lesser crimes.

Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the governor has been working to refocus the corrections system on education, treatment and training.

"Any statistic of this nature bothers the administration," DeLeaver said, "as it's a sign we can do better on several levels - state government, federal government and local government."

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy was "alarmed" by the statistic, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said. The city state's attorney's office attempts to target violent offenders for prosecution while nonviolent drug offenders are diverted into treatment, spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns said.

City police said they disagree with the assertion made by the Justice Policy Institute that "crime continues to rise in Baltimore neighborhoods most impacted by the justice system." Police spokesman Matt Jablow said that over the past five years, crime significantly decreased in virtually all city neighborhoods, especially those hardest hit by violence.

Lotke, who wrote the report with Jason Ziedenberg, conceded that the contention was based on a previous study that used crime data from 1990 through 2000, not through this year.

The new report expands on a 2003 study by the same organization. The two-year-old study found that nine of every 10 people imprisoned for drug crimes in Maryland were black, and that the disparity between whites and blacks serving drug sentences was growing.

In the most recent report, the statistics about the high percentage of blacks in prison are combined with conclusions drawn in previously published studies. One study found that neighborhood demographic changes - such as those created when so many young men are incarcerated - did not necessarily lower crime in certain violence-ridden sections of Baltimore.

The institute's report argues that the money spent on incarcerating an inmate - which Lotke estimates at $22,000 per year - could be better spent attacking social ills. He challenged public officials to demonstrate that money spent on prisons is getting the desired results.

"I feel like the burden is on them," he said.

Sun staff writer Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

By the numbers

African-American men in their 20s in Baltimore:

Total population: 25,215 In prison: 3,226 In jail: 1,269 On probation or parole: 8,680 - Compiled by the Justice Policy Institute using U.S. Census data from 2000, and Maryland Department of Correctional Services and Public Safety data from October 2004

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