A 2022 study by the Randallstown NAACP has caused members of the chapter to raise their voices in concern. Community members allege that the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services – Division of Parole and Probation has neglected to properly survey and enforce probation requirements for repeat offenders. (Photo Courtesy of DPSCS - DPP/Facebook)

By Tashi McQueen
AFRO Political Writer

Baltimore County residents are raising their voices about the state of public safety in Maryland.

“Crime in the area hasn’t decreased because folks are consistently finding ways to get away with it and not being held accountable,” said Lamont Cook, 42.

A 30-year Randallstown resident, Cook said one of the greatest challenges in his community is theft.

“The biggest thing that I’m seeing in Randallstown, Md., is robbery, which may be considered a misdemeanor crime, but it’s still something we need to get a hold of,” he said.

From May 2022 to May 2023, there were 14,762 theft cases, making it the highest-ranking type of crime in the county, according to Baltimore County Police data.

“It’s going to take a combination of local police, government, community members, leaders and so forth to get a hold of this,” said Cook. “Whether it’s more police on the streets or more community members speaking up and reporting incidents, it will take a bulk of everybody to come together and improve things.”

Though theft may seem like a petty crime, one resident shared her personal experience about how it can significantly impact a person’s sense of security.

Sheila Lewis, 73, of Pikesville, Md., said many years ago, her family discovered someone had burglarized their home.

“We went in and our whole house had been ransacked,” said Lewis. “We felt violated and afraid. We felt like we couldn’t leave the house anymore.”

Recognizing the long-lasting effect of trauma on victims of crime, the Randallstown NAACP conducted a study in 2022. The organization says they found holes within the criminal justice system around juveniles and repeat offenders.

“Crime in the area hasn’t decreased because folks are consistently finding ways to get away with it and not being held accountable.”

“The branch has been looking at many different parts of the criminal justice system and how we can improve it. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services – Division of Parole and Probation (DPP) certainly has a big part in that,” said Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP. “Since the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016, there’s been an effort to ensure that Maryland decreases the population in our jails, so most people are now being put on probation.

“We’re seeing a rush to show people out the door so they can say, ‘Hey, they’re not in jail’ and then they come back to our neighborhoods and commit more crimes,” said Coleman. “If DPP doesn’t hold these people accountable and give them the necessary resources, they will re-offend. We’re not rushing to get them back into prison, but to get the necessary resources.”

The study presented an example of a man on probation under DPP supervision who rarely complied with probation conditions, including attending appointments, giving them his address, working and paying the victim fees. He ended up reoffending and being charged with the murder of Shalia Hendrix on May 17, 2023.

The Randallstown NAACP sent a letter to DPP Secretary Carolyn J. Scruggs on June 19, presenting their  findings along with recommendations that Scruggs could consider.

“The first recommendation is to do a total revamping and look at the sanctions they have at the department. What are those sanctions and what happens when people don’t report back?” said Coleman. “We want them to hold to a schedule that after implementing a sanction they moved right into probation violations. It seems like they don’t want to violate anybody for anything unless it’s a violent offense, which at that point, it’s too late because they’ve already hurt someone.”

Their recommendations also include immediately filing written charges/revocation of probation for non-technical violations, using data to identify compliance issues in real-time and helping predict recidivism.

Coleman said he’s hoping to meet with Scruggs about the issue.

On July 10, Scruggs sent a response letter calling into question numerous facts presented by the civil rights organization’s study, but said that DPP is willing to work with the community organization and their recommendations.

“We would like to review the names of the selected offenders, the associated case numbers, and your findings so that we can perform a comparative review with our supervision records,” said Scruggs. “After reviewing the requested information, DPP will be better able to address specific case management issues.”

DPP declined to further comment on the matter.

Before this, the civil rights organization called out the Department of Juvenile Services for their neglect of juvenile offenders, out of which the organization successfully met with Secretary Vincent N. Schiraldi.

Coleman said they also plan to bring these issues to the 2024 Maryland General Assembly.

Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.

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