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NEW REPORT: Maryland’s Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Overwhelmingly Impact African Americans

Contact: Laura Jones 202-558-7974, ext 307, cell: 202-425-6595

NEW REPORT: Maryland’s Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Overwhelmingly Impact African Americans

Public safety benefit of long-term prison sentences questioned

Annapolis, MD—Mandatory minimum drug sentences fall hardest on communities of color, with nearly nine out of ten people sent to prison for a mandatory minimum drug sentence in Maryland being African American, according to a new policy brief from the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute. The report examines the impacts of mandatory sentences, and finds that long prison sentences are one of the most expensive and least effective ways to promote public safety goals.

“Maryland needs to take a hard look at the costs and benefits of its mandatory drug sentencing laws, and consider options that are more effective, more fair, and less costly than prison,” says Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute.

The policy brief, which was commissioned by Delegate Curtis Stovall Anderson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and Chairman of the Baltimore City Delegation, found that the state still focuses the vast majority of its correctional resources on incarceration, rather than treatment, for drug offenders. The report also points out that longer prison sentences do not necessarily promote public safety. Specifically the study finds:

  • Maryland’s mandatory minimums disproportionately affect African Americans. While less than a third of Maryland’s general population are African American, nearly nine out of ten individuals admitted to prison under mandatory minimum drug laws in the past five years were African American despite the fact that nationwide rates of substance dependence and levels of drug dealing are virtually identical between African American and white populations.
  • Incarceration is the most expensive option. Maryland prison costs doubled between 1980 and 2000, due largely to increased sentences. Alternative measures, including drug treatment and prevention programs, are half the cost and often far more effective. 
  • Mandatory minimums affect low-level drug offenders. In Maryland, small-time drug dealers who sell to sustain a habit are likely to receive treatment for their first offense, but if they relapse, often face long mandatory prison sentences. But higher level dealers with information to trade can cut deals and reduce their sentences. 
  • Long prison sentences don’t necessarily deter crime. While the costs of holding drug offenders for long sentences are high, the overall contribution to public safety is, at best, small. The brief cites national research and Maryland data showing that community-based drug treatment costs less and is more effective than prisons.

On Tuesday, February 27, Delegate Anderson will host a hearing on House Bill 992, which would repeal Maryland’s mandatory minimum laws for drug offenders.

Posted in Press Releases & Statements

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