A coalition of advocates, law enforcement officials, drug treatment providers and policy experts today denounced Governor O'Malley's veto of a bill that would have provided the possibility of parole for non-violent drug offenders. The sentencing reform bill, HB 992, was one of the only bills vetoed by O'Malley, despite its support from the legislature, the coalition, and the editorial pages of the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.
"The veto is a disappointing mistake," said Justice Policy Institute executive director Jason Ziedenberg. "Instead of taking a baby step in the right direction towards treatment instead of prison, O'Malley is stubbornly clinging to the failed tough on crime policies of the past. The governor failed to show leadership and vision in this decision."
States across the country have taken steps to reform ineffective mandatory sentencing laws that remove discretion to consider the individual facts of the case. Newly-elected Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) recently called for wide ranging mandatory minimum sentencing reform. Newly-elected New York Governor Elliot Spitzer added language in his budget for a prison closure commission, and is considering a bill to further reform the state's Rockefeller Drug Laws. Under the comparatively modest Maryland reform, individuals convicted of a 10-year sentence for a nonviolent drug reform would have been eligible for, but not guaranteed, parole. Individuals convicted of violent crimes would serve the full 10-year sentences.
"Governor O'Malley has put Maryland out of step with other states that are moving in the direction of smarter, more effective sentencing policies," said Naomi Long, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance District of Columbia Metropolitan Area project. "This veto was a lapse of leadership, and hurts Maryland's efforts to implement the kinds of real reforms that would actually make a difference."
The state of Maryland spends millions of dollars each year incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, the vast majority of whom would be better served by drug treatment options. A recent report by the Justice Policy Institute found that Maryland's sentencing laws disproportionately affect communities of color and may be the least effective, most expensive way to promote public safety.
"The fight for more effective and fair sentencing policies isn't over," said Delegate Curtis Anderson (D-Baltimore), a sponsor of the legislation. "Maryland voters want more fair and effective sentencing policies. We will keep working with the Governor to implement those reforms."
The Partnership for Treatment, Not Incarceration supported HB 992, and is a consortium of organizations and individuals including members of faith communities, public health and drug treatment professionals, public defenders, judges, police and other law enforcement.
For more information about bill, or to interview spokespeople who can respond, contact Naomi Long (202)669-6071. To learn more about sentencing reform work in Maryland, visit: www.justicepolicy.org