Good evening, Chairman and Workgroup members, My name is Kendra Marsh, I am a resident of Baltimore City, and I am testifying on behalf of the People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland. The People’s Commission was created to reduce the disparate impact of the justice system on youth and adults who have been historically targeted and marginalized by local and state criminal and juvenile laws based on their race, gender, disability or socioeconomic


Maryland law criminalizes adolescence. Young people can be charged in court with “status offenses” for behaviors such as skipping school and being disobedient at home. School resource officers can arrest students for “disorderly conduct” for fights at school - fights that are handled without police involvement in schools that don’t have a law enforcement on campus.

Did you know that in Fiscal Year 2019, 81% of referrals to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services were for status offenses, citations, ordinance violations, and misdemeanor offenses? Research has told us time and time again that diverting these youth away from arrest and court involvement gets better public safety outcomes and better results for the young people themselves. So why has Maryland continued to rely on arrest and court involvement in these situations?

If a young person is struggling or engaged in concerning behavior, we should want to help them. But if we really want to help, the right response is to stop, listen to that young person about what is going on in their life, and then figure out how to support them in their own community. We cannot continue to rely on the police to respond.

I believe this is a moment in which we can tear down the power of police departments that have

historically oppressed the most vulnerable in society, and instead uplift and provide resources for the communities that have been over policed. Thank you for your time.

Yesterday, the People's Commission to Decriminalize Maryland held its first statewide public meeting, bringing together advocates and community members from around the state to discuss strategies to achieve the Commission's mission, "to reduce the disparate impact of the justice system on youth and adults who have been historically targeted and marginalized by local and state criminal and juvenile laws on the basis of their race, gender, disability or socio-economic status."

As OSI's Tara Huffman explained, unlike related commission and task forces based in Annapolis, this one is fully informed and led by the community.

Representatives from the Commission's working groups, Drug Policy, Homelessness, Poverty, Sex

Work, and Youth, each gave a presentation reflecting their research into the criminal codes that need to changed to achieve the Commission's mission.

Next up, the Commission will hold a series of regional forums around the state. Details to be announced soon. 

This week, the People’s Commission to Decriminalized Maryland held a virtual press conference to introduce the commission and its mission: To advocate for specific changes to Maryland’s criminal codes to stop the criminal justice system from targeting marginalized communities. You can watch the full presentation below.

As Tara Huffman, Director of OSI’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program, said during the press conference, OSI brought advocates and community members together to create the commission because previous task forces and commissions were controlled by politicians rather than the communities affected by these policies. 

“I and others felt it necessary to finish the work and expand the work of these two bodies and do so in a way that, instead of relying on state actors with the support of community leaders, to sort of say which direction our justice system needs to move to flip that and to say, ‘No, it’s the people,'” she said, adding that “everyone who is a member of the commission is someone who has had direct lived experience with the issues that we’re tackling, or they are family members of folks, or they are advocates who have dedicated their lives and their careers to lifting up civil rights and human rights.” You can see a full list of Commission members here.

The press conference was covered by Maryland Matters, the Maryland Daily Record, and the Baltimore Bulletin. The Commission will hold a public information session on July 29th. Register here.