By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
Baltimore City Councilman James Torrence (D-District 7) recently introduced new legislation, Bill 23-0416, that would create the Baltimore City Office of Returning Citizens. The office would establish and oversee Baltimore’s first Re-entry Action Council (RAC), which would guide and cooperate with the returning citizen’s office.
RAC would build on the re-entry efforts of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) through the city’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy.
“What’s happening now is ensuring that the work and the milestones stay in place, but also that there’s a solidified office for it,” said Torrence during a press conference just two hours before introducing the bill.
The RAC’s responsibilities include advocating for returning citizens, promoting their welfare through education, health care and housing, and developing and proposing legislation to benefit the formerly incarcerated.
According to the bill, the re-entry council will have at least 14 members but no more than 25, primarily appointed by the mayor. This includes two members who will be nominated by the city council president and two by the city comptroller. The council also must have diverse representatives that replicate the city’s demographics as much as possible.
Torrence spoke about how close the matter is to his heart as he is the child of a formerly incarcerated parent.
“I just want to lift up the name of Pamela Massenburg, who was convicted of a felony and due to that felony, she had to live on my grandma’s couch for several years,” said Torrence. “She got access to workforce development, but it was not sustainable.”
Torrence said his mother had to lie about where she lived to return home. If she had not, she would have had to carry out the rest of her sentence in prison because she did not have a qualifying home.
At a press conference, Mayor Brandon M. Scott gave his support for the legislation alongside City Council President Nick Mosby and other public safety officials.
“It’s unacceptable that we as a city have the highest incarceration rate in the state of Maryland, with the majority of mass incarceration taking place in historically neglected neighborhoods,” said Scott. “It is our duty to ensure that we reconnect our returning residents to society immediately after they are released. This is something that we explicitly focus on when we outline our comprehensive violence reduction strategy because we know that supporting returning citizens and reducing recidivism are key components of our work to produce sustainable, long-term public safety improvements across our city.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Baltimore houses only 9 percent of Maryland’s population but accounts for 40 percent of the state’s incarcerated people.
One resident doesn’t agree with the city creating a new agency to solve the recidivism issue.
“Creating a separate agency for work already being done is counterproductive,” said Baltimore native Will J. Hanna II. “We have to get out of the same mistakes that we’ve made in the past. We can’t keep trying to pay our way out of the situation. It has to be a community-driven effort.”