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Mizeur’s crime plan calls for shift from ‘mass incarceration’ to prevention in Maryland

Maryland Del. Heather R. Mizeur. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Heather R. Mizeur on Wednesday plans to release a far-reaching crime plan that calls for ending mandatory minimum prison sentences, replacing juvenile detention centers with community-based treatment programs and making it far easier for people with criminal convictions to shield them from future employers.

A copy of the 18-page plan, which was shared with The Washington Post, also seeks to place further restrictions on guns in Maryland, where lawmakers adopted some of the most sweeping reforms in the country last year in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Mizeur, a Montgomery County delegate, calls her approach “transformational” and “holistic” and is highly critical of “antiquated ‘tough on crime’ policies” that have been pursued under Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), whom she is seeking to succeed.

“Maryland’s strategy of mass incarceration has failed to make us safe,” Mizeur says in a plan certain to cement her standing as the most liberal Democrat in the field. “It has only created lifetime criminals by reinforcing the cradle-to-prison pipeline. It is time for a new approach toward public safety. Instead of throwing money at crime’s consequences, we must sharpen our focus on prevention.”

Mizeur faces Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) in the June primary.

In her crime plan, Mizeur argues that doing away with mandatory minimum sentences will “place the power of reason and consideration back in the hands of a judge.”

She proposes a “Blue Ribbon Commission to End Youth Detention,” which she says will “lay out the best path for the phased closing of our state’s wasteful and harmful juvenile detention facilities, expanding community-based treatment and creating a small, complimentary state-based treatment system.”

The plan also calls for a “strong shielding law” that would allow non-violent offenders who have served their sentences to avoid the stigma of a criminal conviction when seeking jobs and housing.

Mizeur would replace the current bail system for pretrial release with risk-based assessments not conditioned on one’s ability to pay.

And Mizeur also says she would use the governor’s clemency powers to issue more pardons, particularly for those who were incarcerated for marijuana possession and other “simple drug crimes.” She also pledges to commute the sentences of Maryland’s five death-row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole -- something O’Malley has not done in the wake of the legislature’s repeal of capital punishment last year.

To further tighten the state’s gun laws, Mizeur says she would seek legislation to require background checks at the point of sale for firearms besides handguns, not all of which are covered under current law. She would also raise the age required to buy or possess a long gun from 18 to 21, the same age that is required for handguns.

Mizeur’s plan would also require law-enforcement to seize all guns found at the scene of a domestic violence disturbance.

As part of her “holistic” approach, Mizeur includes some previously released initiatives in her crime plan. Among them: a “universal” pre-kindergarten education program, expanded after-school and summer programs for youths, a major increase in the minimum wage and the legalization of marijuana.

Mizeur is scheduled to discuss her plan Wednesday morning on “The Marc Steiner Show” on Baltimore’s WEAA 88.9 FM, which airs at 9 a.m.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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