By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service
BALTIMORE — While racial disparities in imprisonment in the U.S. have decreased overall, Maryland’s is on the rise, according to a new report.
More than 70% of the state’s prison population is black, compared with about 30% of the state population.
This is the highest percentage of imprisoned African-Americans in any state in the nation, according to Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, which put out the report.
Schindler says the national average is a little over 30%, and he points out that underinvestment in neighborhoods, especially in Baltimore, and harsh crime policies are some of the many reasons for the large racial disparity.
“We have to recognize that within the justice system in Maryland and how the justice system responds doesn’t help things,” he states. “It actually makes it worse oftentimes, and that includes over-policing, very harsh sentencing, restrictive parole practices.”
The racial disparities exist even as Maryland’s prison population declined by 13% since 2014, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Gov. Larry Hogan just announced four new bills to reduce violent crimes that include adding up to 500 additional police officers.
But Schindler maintains what’s needed is more investment in programs for young adults, not more policing.
The Justice Policy Institute report shows that the racial difference in prisons is most pronounced among emerging adults ages 18 to 24, who criminal justice reform advocates say are developmentally more like teenagers.
Tyrone Walker, who works with Schindler at the institute, was 19 when he was incarcerated for killing another man. He maintains if he had more resources in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood at the time, he might not have committed the crime.
“They always talk about victims and perpetrators, but no one ever talks about perpetrators being victims,” he states. “A lot of us come from these crime-ridden communities with the wrong concept of what a man looks like, what community members are. A lot of us never heard the word ‘community.’ “
The JPI report suggests that Maryland considers legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 20, following the lead of other states such as Vermont, Illinois, and Massachusetts.