Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) pledged to push for stricter sentencing guidelines for repeat violent offenders after meeting with Baltimore criminal justice officials Tuesday to discuss the city’s record-high homicide rate.
Hogan, who told reporters that the meeting “got a little heated at times because we were expressing our opinions,” said judges often waive jail time for people with multiple violent-crime convictions and place them on probation.
“We keep putting the same, exact violent people on the streets,” he said. “The average person who has been killed in the city has 11.9 arrests on their record. One day they’re the shooter, the next day they’re the victim.”
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D), who participated in Tuesday’s meeting, expressed similar frustration with sentencing, saying she would “like to see the judges do what they need to do to keep repeat offenders off our streets.”
Hogan said he would release his “truth in sentencing” plan as part of a crime package for the General Assembly’s 2018 session, which begins in January. His staff declined to provide more information about the measures.
State Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who chairs the Senate’s judicial committee, said he supports “strong sentencing for violent offenders,” but added that the state needs a holistic approach to dealing with the city’s homicide rate, which has swelled to more than 220 so far this year, according to a Baltimore Sun database.
Zirkin’s panel is scheduled to meet Sept. 12 to discuss public safety in Baltimore with experts on criminal justice, addiction, after-school programs and other fields.
“This is the big issue of this legislative session,” the lawmaker said. “What’s going on in Baltimore is untenable. The degree of violence has always been way too high, but now it’s at an epidemic level.”
Pugh unveiled a plan on violence prevention three weeks ago that includes shifting more uniformed police officers from administrative roles to the streets, expanding summer jobs programs for students, increasing addiction treatment and allowing high school graduates to attend community college for free starting in 2018.
In October, the state’s 2016 Justice Reinvestment Act will take effect, increasing penalties for violent crimes such as second-degree murder and kidnapping but eliminating mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and allowing some nonviolent criminals to be released earlier from prison.
The legislation was designed to treat offenders more fairly, reduce prison costs and incarceration levels, and direct more resources toward rehabilitation.
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City), who heads the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, said she agreed with the governor’s concerns about sentencing.
“We need to look at the decisions of our judges,” she said. “There’s something wrong when you have repeat offenders who continuously get released from jail. It’s very troubling to our communities and constituents.”
Glenn said she is preparing proposals for workforce training, educational programs and recreation that would complement Pugh’s plans by “putting more meat on the bone.”
The officials at Hogan’s meeting on Tuesday included Pugh, state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), acting Maryland U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. Young.
The governor said he was disappointed that several judges who preside over criminal cases in the city did not accept his request to participate in the discussion.
In declining his invitation, Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, said attending such a gathering would be inappropriate for members of the judicial branch who are supposed to be unswayed by public demands and fear of criticism.