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In addressing Baltimore’s criminal justice problems, make sure they exist first | READER COMMENTARY

Crime in Baltimore City is real. Problems in Baltimore’s criminal justice system are real. But too often, what are claimed as “problems” simply do not exist.

An example is a conclusory claim in the recent op-ed concerning expungements (“We need more expungements, not less,” April 19). Offered as proof of racial injustice in plea bargaining is the following: “Among those who have their charges reduced during arraignment or disposition, white defendants are systematically offered more charge reductions than Black or Latinx defendants.” While this is no doubt true in many jurisdictions, it is demonstrably false in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

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Recently, academics from the University of Maryland and Harvard University investigated racial justice in Baltimore prosecutions. They analyzed all criminal cases in the Baltimore City Circuit Court during 2017 and 2018 to determine, among other things, whether the number of charges filed and convicted vary by race. They found “no evidence of racial disparity in the average number of charges filed or in the number of final conviction charges.” (Final Report on Racial Justice in Prosecution in Baltimore, February 2022, page 35).

Particularly now, when the governor, the legislature, the mayor, the police commissioner, the candidates for Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and this newspaper all have plans to address Baltimore’s criminal justice problems, it is important to ask what evidence, if any, supports the particular problems they claim to exist.

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— Michael Schatzow, Baltimore


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