ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Proposed crime legislation by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan would increase mass incarceration, harm Blacks and Latinos and lower the priority for funding social programs, said criminal-justice reform advocates who lambasted the proposals during a news conference Tuesday.
The three bills stiffen penalties for firearm possession, push for juveniles involved in gang activity to be tried in adult court and call for violent offenders to serve longer prison terms before parole eligibility.
One proposal would impose mandatory 10-year prison sentences for second-time offenders accused of gun possession in the commission of a crime. In addition, a first-time offender could be charge with a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
The advocates, led by Delegate Mary Washington of Baltimore City, criticized Hogan’s proposals at Tuesday’s news conference.
“When you talk about public safety, these kinds of policies are not the policies that are going to get those that are most responsible for the violence we see in our communities,” said Dayvon Love, director of public policy with Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle in Baltimore. “There are lots of people who will get swept up into the system whose lives will be forever damaged.”
Toni Holness, public policy director for the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called Hogan’s plan “election-year politics.”
“These are failed, recycled policies from the past that never worked anywhere in the country,” she said. “What you are seeing is not a thoughtful approach to public safety. They will simply bloat our prisons [with] more Black and brown bodies.”
In terms of economics, a new $202 million prison with 1,300 beds to accommodate additional prisoners has also been proposed.
During a nearly two-hour hearing before the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee on firearms possession penalties, supporters of the bill named SB 197 said it’s simply about providing law enforcement with resources to fight crime.
“We need that level of accountability on the state level,” said Cara Sullivan, deputy legislative officer in the governor’s office. “We must have the tools to hold these repeat offenders accountable.”
State attorneys from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties also spoke in support of Hogan’s bills.
“When someone shoots someone in my county, we don’t look at the color of who they are,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger. “This gives us a tool to go after those who are violent.”
Sen. Wayne Norman, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, said he’s now in fear of walking around Baltimore, especially after 343 homicides in the city last year.
“Incarceration will make people feel safe,” he said.
State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 26) of Accokeek spoke of how his jurisdiction’s reduction in crime stemmed from money spent on drug prevention and other rehabilitation programs.
“It wasn’t just a [tough-on-crime] approach,” he said. “We put the resources in a multiplicity of places.”
Sen. Delores Kelley of Baltimore County echoed Muse, emphasizing the need to appropriate funds for employment rather than enforcement.
“Instead of adding all this time and spending taxpayer money on [legislation] proposed here, if we could incentivize large employers for a person who exits prison after the first offense to train and or hire ex-offenders,” she said. “Wouldn’t that help?”