Officials, activists weigh police, criminal justice reforms

scales of justiceSILVER SPRING – Local politicians and activists brainstormed solutions to mass incarceration, police misconduct and racial inequality in Maryland at a town hall panel July 2 organized by political organization Progressive Neighbors.

The forum focused on how the state of Maryland is addressing these issues as well as gun violence in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death and the riots that followed in Baltimore.

The panelists discussed several bills that have been passed in the past few months in order to help decrease mass incarceration in Maryland and to help those have been convicted of a crime be able to get a job. One of these bills is the Maryland Second Chance Act, which authorizes “a person to petition the court to shield court records and police records relating to specified convictions at a specified time.”

State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20-Montgomery County), one of the panelists and the bill’s sponsor, said,

“This will allow people to get back on their feet and into the job market and to find work because right now that record of having an offense, a very minor offense, has become a disabling scarlet letter on a lot of people’s resumes.”

Raskin listed several other things that have been done in Maryland in order to improve police misconduct and mass incarceration, including the decriminalization of marijuana, the abolition of the death penalty in 2012, and the signing of the bill that will require police officers to wear body cameras.

Caryn Aslan, senior public advocate with Job Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore, said that one of the main problems with mass incarceration is that is an economic issue and it is used as a filtering mechanism for employers.

“Many don’t really think about what happens when you either exit the prison system or even if you have never served any time, what happens when you have that scarlet letter and that scarlet letter is called a criminal record. Misdemeanor, felony doesn’t matter to many employees, doesn’t matter to many landlords,” she said.

The panel also said that it is important for citizens to work for the changes they want to see happen. Garland Nixon, WPFW Radio Show host and commentator, also discussed the importance of groups such as Progressive Neighbors in making changes in your community.

“We have to create an environment where what we want happens naturally, create an environment where it is very easy for legislators to get these things through, “said Nixon.

One method the panelists and the audience presented in order to improve police misconduct was improving the training of the police officers.

“I think we do have to do a better job of training but who we are hiring as well,” said state Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-47-Prince George’s County).

Raskin stated that police officers should also have to go through a mental evaluation at the beginning of their careers and throughout their careers.

“People need mental health screening on the way in and they need mental health treatment along the way,” said Raskin.

Nixon said is not the training but rather those who are in charge, such as police chiefs, who can help change the culture of the environment.

“Any police department can change overnight if the culture is changed, and it changes from the top,” said Nixon.

Raskin said he is hoping for several other changes to occur, including the legalization of marijuana. Aslan said she is hoping for the complete elimination of bail from the criminal process.

The panel also included State Delegate Curt Anderson (D-43-Baltimore City).


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