COURT AND PRISON REFORM

Maryland State

Tzedek tzedek tirdof—“Justice justice you shall pursue”—the Torah commands (Deut. 16:20). Why does the Torah, usually so sparing in its language, repeat tzedek? Rabbi Simkha Bunim of Pczsha, an early 19th century Chasidic master, taught that this means, “Pursue justice justly. The methods we use to pursue justice must also be just.” 

— T’ruah, “Ending Mass Incarceration is a Jewish Issue”

JUFJ is guided by the Jewish concept of tzelem elohim, which teaches that all people are created in the Divine image, with inherent and equal dignity and value. All people should be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. Black people, people experiencing homelessness or mental health crises, those in poverty, and young people facing marginalization are disproportionately targeted for criminalization and are treated with discrimination from their first contact with the system all the way through to their life after release. We support the prevention of unjust arrests, prosecutions, convictions and incarceration; a fair parole process; and helping people return to their families and communities from a place of incarceration.

Who’s Impacted:

  • Communities fighting marginalization, returning citizens, their families, their communities, and everyone who faces undue social and financial hardship as a result of their contact with the Maryland justice system. Our racism and classism embedded in our court and prison systems disproportionately target Black and brown people and those unable to access health care, housing, and other commodities.

Key Committees:

  • Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR), Chair: Will Smith (Montgomery County)
  • House Judiciary (JUD), Chair: Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City)
  • Senate Budget and Taxation, Chair: Guy Guzzone (Howard County)
  • House Appropriations, Chair: Maggie McIntosh (Baltimore City)

Legislative Details:

  • Fund Women’s Prerelease Facility (SB684 – MDGA20):
    • Prerelease programs help people nearing the end of their prison sentences secure employment, housing, drug treatment and mental health services, and family support. There are multiple such facilities for men in Maryland, but none for women.
    • WE WON! Legislation sponsored by Del. Charlotte Crutchfield (Montgomery County) and Sen. Mary Washington (Baltimore City) in 2020 was passed by the General Assembly, and we successfully worked with our partners to override Gov. Hogan’s veto and make the Gender- Responsive Prerelease Act (SB684) law! Now we need to push to get it funded.
    • This work is done with a coalition led by Out for Justice and Maryland Justice Project.
  • Child Interrogation Protection Act (HB269/SB53):
    • No child should be interrogated by law enforcement without being able to consult a lawyer. But Maryland does not mandate that young people have access to legal counsel before being interrogated by police. This contributes to the criminalization and incarceration of Black and brown youth who are disproportionately targeted by our justice system.
    • 90% of kids waive their right to counsel because they don’t understand their Miranda rights and children falsely confess at exponentially higher rates than adults. States including Arkansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and North Dakota have greater protection for youth’s rights than Maryland.
    • Last year, this passed the House, but did not get out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. We are supporting this legislation again.
    • The primary partners on this bill are Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, BRIDGE Maryland, and ACLU.
    • This bill is sponsored by Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Sandy Bartlett.

Override the Veto on Decarceration (SB202 – MDGA21)
In the December 2021 Special Session, the General Assembly voted to override Governor Hogan’s veto of SB202, which removed the governor from the parole process and depoliticized people’s release from incarceration. This is now law. Thank you to our partners in the Long Sentence Server Coalition led by the Family Support network, as well as ACLU, NAACP, Out for Justice, and Maryland Justice Project.

Key Partners: ACLU-Maryland, Out for Justice, The People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland

Additional Legislative Positions:

In addition to JUFJ’s key legislative priorities in the 2022 session, we support and will provide testimony on the following bills:

  • Juvenile Court Jurisdiction (SB165/HB294) – Charge children as children and not adults. 
  • Juvenile Justice Reform (HB459) – Reforms the juvenile justice process.
  • Cannabis Legalization + Equity package (HB1) – The Speaker of the House has indicated that cannabis legalization is a key priority for her this session. Any legalization must include vacating marijuana convictions, a focus on Black businesses, and using tax revenue for reparations.

Maryland State

Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be patient in the administration of justice, raise many disciples and make a fence round the Torah. – Pirkei Avot 1:1

Shammai used to say: make your study of the Torah a fixed practice; speak little, but do much; and receive all people with a pleasant countenance. – Pirkei Avot 1:15

JUFJ is guided by the Jewish value of Tzelem Elohim, that all people are created in the divine image, with inherent and equal dignity and value. All people should be treated with dignity and respect. Black people, people experiencing homelessness, those in poverty, and young people face marginalization and are often at risk of entering the justice system. We support decriminalization; prevention of unjust incarceration, and decarceration, helping people return to their families and communities from a place of incarceration.

Who’s Impacted: Communities fighting marginalization, returning citizens, their families, their communities, and everyone who faces undue social and financial hardship as a result of their contact with the Maryland justice system. Our racist and classist justice system disproportionately targets Black and brown people and those unable to access health care, housing, and other commodities.

Key Committees:

  • Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR), Chair: Will Smith (Montgomery County)
  • Senate Education, Health, & Environmental Affairs (EHE), Chair: Paul Pinsky (Prince George’s County)
  • House Judiciary (JUD), Chair: Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City)
  • House Ways and Means (W&M), Chair: Anne Kaiser (Montgomery County)

Legislative Details:

  • Overturn Veto for Women’s Prerelease Facilities:
    • Prerelease programs help people nearing the end of their prison sentences secure employment, housing, drug treatment and mental health services, and family support.
    • Legislation sponsored by Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield (Montgomery County) and Senator Mary Washington (Baltimore City) in 2020 was passed by the General Assembly, but vetoed by Governor Hogan. We will work to override that veto to make the Gender-Responsive Prerelease Act (SB684) into law.
  • Decriminalize Poverty
    • Eliminate laws that incarcerate, fine, or otherwise punish individuals by limiting opportunities based on their economic status.
    • Automatic expungement for non-convictions and repeal the “Unit Rule”
  • Decriminalize Youth
    • Exclude common adolescent behaviors from Maryland juvenile justice system, expand and standardize diversion of youth away from the juvenile justice system, and prohibit the use of short- or long-term incarceration for common adolescent behaviors that pose no risk to public safety.
      • Eliminate “status offenses,” “violations,” and “Child in Need of Supervision” from the “Juvenile Causes” section of the Maryland Code
      • Narrow the definition of “delinquent act” in Maryland to focus on public safety, not minor misbehavior
      • Greatly expand and standardize access to community-based diversion option
      • Prohibit incarceration of youth for engaging in common adolescent behavior, minor misbehavior, and other reasons that do not pose a legitimate risk to public safety
  • Decarceration
    • Create systems that allow people to exit the justice system and return to their families and communities
      • Remove the Governor from the parole process (Senate President Bill Ferguson and JPR Chair Will Smith are on record for getting this done in 2021)
      • Provide a second look at the judicial level (sentence modification) after an individual has served 15 years, with a focus on juveniles and those over the age of 55
      • Change the criteria for medical and geriatric parole so more people are eligible. Right now, the criteria are so narrow, about two dozen people have met the threshold.

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