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Hopkins researchers find no uptick in crime, complaints after Marilyn Mosby stops prosecuting drug possession

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University measured Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s policy to quit prosecuting drug possession and prostitution, finding no increase in citizen complaints or greater threat to public safety.

The researchers issued their results Tuesday after a 14-month study of the policy. Soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, Mosby announced she would cease prosecuting people for possessing drugs, prostitution, and other nonviolent offenses. She also dismissed pending cases of drug possession and prostitution.

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Hopkins researchers found she dropped charges against 741 people. Six of those people were rearrested for violent crimes such as robbery and assault, the researchers wrote. That’s less than 1%.

“This suggests that the vast majority of direct beneficiaries of the policy change did not go on to commit crimes threatening public safety,” wrote the four researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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Mosby has defended her policy by arguing the prosecution of low-level, nonviolent crimes such as drug possession, open containers and prostitution has disproportionately and harmfully affected minority neighborhoods in Baltimore. The researchers cite statistics that 70% of Maryland’s prison population was Black in 2018 — double the national average. Mosby’s argued tough enforcement can end without an uptick in crime.

“This report demonstrates what we have set out to do as an office — reimagine the criminal justice system, by promoting healthy communities and no longer criminalizing behavioral health issues that do not pose a public safety threat,” Mosby said in a statement.

In March 2020, she announced her policy as a way to reduce the number of people behind bars in Maryland, where they’re at risk of contracting the coronavirus. One year later, she announced the COVID-19 policies would be permanent.

Her policy falls in line with other progressive strategies she brought to Baltimore. In 2019, Mosby announced she would cease prosecuting people for possessing marijuana.

“The data proves that we must continue to move past the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer just default to the status quo of criminalizing mostly people of color for addiction,” she said. “I appreciate the hard work and detailed analysis by the Johns Hopkins research team.”

In the Hopkins study, researchers estimate her policy averted about 440 arrests for drug and paraphernalia possession. Almost 80% of those arrests would have fallen on Baltimore’s Black population, the researchers estimated.

They also counted nearly 4,000 drug-related 911 calls a month before the policy. Afterward, the number of drug-related 911 calls fell to about 2,500, a 37% decrease. And they counted 167 calls a month to 911 about prostitution before the policy. That figure has declined by about five calls a month.

Still, researchers wrote 911 calls may have declined because citizens knew those crimes wouldn’t be prosecuted rather than a reduction in community concern.

“We found these results very encouraging on the whole because we know that putting people into the criminal legal system is harmful to their mental and physical health, and it seems that Baltimore has been able to reduce that problem without incurring a significant cost in terms of public safety,” said Hopkins scientist Saba Rouhani, the study’s lead author.

The researchers conducted the study at the request of Mosby’s office. They noted further study is required to know whether people who use drugs and perform sex work are getting help when they are no longer being criminalized.

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