Maryland Leads The Way On Criminal Justice Reform

Eric Lieberman | Deputy Editor

Maryland is making a strong push toward criminal justice reform with sweeping legislative changes.

Starting in October, 2017, approximately 1,600 prisoners are qualified for early release due to their nonviolent convictions. This compounds already mandated alterations in the judicial process, like doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders who have been recently convicted.

One piece of legislation looks to end civil asset forfeiture. The bill, officially referred to as HB 336, makes the guidelines for seizing property more rigorous. Authorities, for example, are required to “provide a receipt for property on seizure that includes specified information,” as well as a mail notice. Furthermore, cash forfeiture is only permitted for trafficking cases, which is a considerable change from the past policy that encompassed any drug arrest including more benign possession cases. (RELATED: The 7 Most Egregious Examples Of Civil Asset Forfeiture)

Another new piece of bipartisan legislation, dubbed the Justice Reinvestment Act, was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan. The legislation does more than just reduce the sentences of over a thousand inmates; it also reallocates precious resources to crime prevention measures. Drug consumers, for example, will be guided to appropriate treatment facilities. Estimates show $80 million dollars will be saved from reduced incarceration and will be used on drug treatment tools and initiatives, as well as potential government expenditures elsewhere.

Paul DeWolfe, head of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender and one of the exclusive participants of the state panel that offered suggestions to Maryland’s General Assembly, described how he views the past trends on incarceration as counterproductive. DeWolfe said that “you can’t jail your way out of the drug problems that people have…it’s an enormous waste of resources.”

Some Maryland delegates, however, disagree with these reforms. State Delegate Herbert H. McMillan contends “reducing jail time for heroin pushers, during an opioid epidemic does not send the message heroin pushers need to hear.” (RELATED: New Mexico Gov Abolishes Civil Asset Forfeiture)

Certain provisions of the bill prove the state as a whole does not want to be viewed as “soft” on crime. That is why particular stipulations of the bill increase sentences for violent crimes like second degree murder and child abuse.

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