By Ryan Coleman
The community, the Randallstown NAACP, members of the General Assembly from both political parties, the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, the county executive office, police and state’s attorneys, business leaders and citizens simply tired of crime and juvenile offenses must come together this year’s legislative session to create a real package of legislation to address the violent repeat offenders and the juvenile justice crisis. The work will be complicated and must have give and take by all parties.
In Baltimore City, the average murderer will have been charged and/or convicted eight times for various gun and drug offenses before taking another life, before creating one of last year’s 333 victims. There must be a legislative response to this crisis.
This legislative response should be the Maryland Prisoner Release Re-Offender (PRR) program to interrupt the repeat violent offender crisis. Individuals sentenced to PRR are not first-time, low-level offenders. The sentencing provisions of PRR do not apply to less serious misdemeanors or infractions, even when committed repeatedly. In order to be sentenced under PRR, an individual must have previously committed one or more serious, felony crimes for which they served time in a state or federal prison or are on escape status. The offender must then commit or attempt to commit another felony within three years of their release from prison for the prior offense. If the offender commits a crime three years and one day after release, they would not be considered eligible for sentencing under PRR. If a defendant is found guilty of a second crime (which must be a felony and a crime of violence) during this three-year window, the court must impose the statutory maximum sentence for that crime. Under the statute, if a person is determined to be a PRR and is found guilty of a felony that is punishable by a 15-year sentence, the court must impose a 15-year sentence. If the person is found guilty of a forcible felony that is punishable by a life sentence, the court must impose a life sentence. A person sentenced as a PRR must serve 100 percent of the sentence and is not eligible for parole or any form of early release.
Some have argued that the legislation would somehow lead to mass incarceration which is absolutely false. Although it is a clever political line, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that a small handful of individuals have the unique distinction of being convicted multiple times for violent crime. Is it really controversial to say that someone who is convicted three, four and five times of violent crimes belongs in prison? How about asking the families of the 333 murder victims what they think about that?
Some argue that juvenile placement in residential facilities is ineffective. It is only ineffective when you do not provide resources. It’s another clever political line. Their ability to live productive and crime-free lives often depends on continuing their education and accessing appropriate social services and resources. Is it really controversial that juveniles who commit three, four and five car thefts belong in a residential placement facility? How about asking the over 8,000 victims of car theft this year in the City of Baltimore.
Tackling violent crime is not simple, and well-meaning people can come at the problem from different points of view. Some argue that we should focus on long-term solutions addressing poverty and education and job training. I absolutely agree. Some argue that we should focus on ensuring that individuals with addiction and mental health issues can access treatment immediately. I absolutely agree. Some say that we should give second chances through expungement for non violent offenses. I agree with that as well.
The Legislature must work on solutions to the massive crime problem by focusing attention on all of these strategies. But doing those things does not mean that we ignore violent crimes or accountability for juveniles.
The session’s focus on the most violent criminals and juvenile crime in combination with other long term solutions will be appropriate and necessary. The violence and car thefts that rage across our city is out of control, and it is essential that we continue to attack it from every angle, without regard to party or politics. The families of the victims demand nothing less.