The jail population in Baltimore City can be significantly reduced with reforms in arrests, bail and prisoner reentry programs according to a Justice Policy Institute study. On Tuesday, the nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing incarceration rates released Baltimore Behind Bars: How to Reduce the Jail Population, Save Money and Improve Public Safety to address the issue of overcrowding at the city’s jail. Researchers assert that Maryland can save millions of dollars by implementing programs and policy changes to reduce Baltimore City’s jail population.

“We decided to focus on the Baltimore jail system because it’s been plagued with problems for a very long time,” said JPI research associate Nastassia Walsh. “Our report is looking specifically for people who are being held pretrial. What’s unique about the Baltimore jail system is 90 percent of the people in there are still pretrial compared to about 60 percent nationally.”

Baltimore City is the largest contributor to the incarcerated population in the state of Maryland. In order to lower costs to the state, make Baltimore communities safer and provide fair treatment to all residents, JPI believes reducing the number of people in the jail and making it easier for people to reenter society is vital.

The report found that city courts are clogged with too many cases, which contributes to people being held pre-trial for extended periods of time. Proposals offered in the study include having police officers give citations rather than make arrests for minor offenses; the courts exploring methods of releasing offenders other than bail; reminding offenders of their court dates and strengthening prisoner reentry programs.

“There 4,000 people in the jail at any given time,” Walsh said. “Baltimore has one of the 20 largest jails in the country and it locks up the highest percentage of its residents in the country compared to the other cities. The jail is overcrowded, old and gross. We’re really concerned with what’s going on.”

According to the study, more than half of people in Baltimore’s jail are awaiting trial and have not been offered bail. Most are being held for nonviolent crimes such as drugs, property offenses or probation violations.

Even as crime rates in the city have gone down significantly in the last 10 years, the study shows residents are still being arrested at alarming rates. And while African Americans make up about two-thirds of the Baltimore City’s population, they account for 94 percent of the people in the jail.

“Real damage is done to communities of color by crowding at the jail, as the majority of people incarcerated are African American,” said Monique Dixon, director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program of the Open Society Institute – Baltimore.

The state is currently planning two new jail facilities in Baltimore, one for youth being tried as adults and another for women. Baltimore Behind Bars says the new jails may actually increase the number of people incarcerated in the jail, but by implementing solutions to reduce the current jail population, the estimated $280 million it will take to construct the facilities could be spent on education, employment support and treatment.

“The need for change is clear,” JPI Executive Director Tracey Velázquez said in a statement.

“Communities can’t solve social problems by locking up more of their residents. It’s time for all stakeholders to collaborate on solutions.”

 

MelanieR.Holmes

AFROStaffWriter