Last year when Freddie Gray died from a spinal cord injury while in police custody and protests flashed across our TV screens, Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood made local and national headlines. It was obvious then a conversation was long overdue, at both the local and state levels, about the right kind of sustained investments needed to address long-standing challenges in Sandtown and other distressed Baltimore neighborhoods.

According to the Justice Policy Institute report,  The Right Investment: Corrections Spending in Baltimore City, taxpayers spend $17 million each year to incarcerate people from Sandown where Freddie Gray grew up. Freddie Gray’s neighborhood also experiences disproportionate unemployment, greater reliance on public assistance, higher rates of school absence, higher rates of vacant and abandoned housing, and more addiction challenges than the city average. In addition, many individuals return back to Sandown after incarceration.  The Right Investment illustrates how the money currently spent on incarceration could instead be better invested in treatment, housing, education, and employment services in these communities in order to improve public safety.  

Shortly after the turmoil that erupted in Baltimore, we called upon the State and City leaders of Baltimore to help get a better return on our public safety investments in distressed Baltimore communities, and free up funds for more effective ways to reduce crime. We were pleased that last year, the Maryland Legislature recognized the importance of reinvestment by forming the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC).   While it remains to be seen whether the Justice Reinvestment Act legislation that was enacted this week will free up money currently spent on prisons for reinvestment in communities like Sandown, the JRA’s passage represents a step forward.

 In future legislative sessions and as part of ongoing changes to policy and practice in corrections, public safety and our approaches to meeting community need, we urge Maryland policymakers to take a reinvestment approach to reducing the number of people in jail and prison: Maryland needs to be redirecting money that would have otherwise been spent on incarceration to communities that are most impacted by the justice system, such as Freddie Gray’s neighborhood.  By taking steps to reduce the number of people incarcerated, Maryland will free up dollars for a more effective and consistent approach to investing in our vulnerable neighborhoods.

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