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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.

MARYLAND – Maryland residents are demanding change in our system of justice. Six months ago – at the invitation of Open Society Institute-Baltimore, before COVID-19 began ravaging black and brown communities, before the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others – a group of Maryland advocates and activists came together to demand fundamental changes to Maryland’s justice system. That effort is the People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland.

When we first conceived of this commission over a year ago, we had no idea that COVID-19 would turn all of our worlds upside down. The pandemic has helped to lay bare the multiple ways our laws build or prop up systems of racism and inequity. It has also inspired leaders and regular folk all over the world to rethink what is fair and what is possible. This Commission’s goals are ambitious, and it is needed now more than ever.” Tara Huffman, Director, Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program, Open Society Institute – Baltimore.

The People’s Commission is one of the few statewide efforts that brings together such a diverse community of people, particularly those with direct lived experiences. This growing community includes anti-poverty advocates, harm reduction activists, Black Lives Matter activists, LGBTQ advocates, Sex Work advocates, and many others. The People’s Commission also includes significant representation from youth and young adults, who are often marginalized and tokenized in statewide reform efforts. The People’s Commission recognizes that youth and young adults are Maryland’s future, and it is committed to having youth and young adults in meaningful leadership roles.    

Maryland is fortunate to have the People’s Commission as a space where citizens can decide what it will take to dismantle laws and policies that have criminalized and marginalized so many groups for so long. I am honored to be part of this reform movement, and the work that lies ahead,” said Kendra Marsh, Chair of the People’s Commission Youth Workgroup.

The People’s Commission was established for the express purpose 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 socio-economic status. To this end, the core work of the Commission is to examine Maryland’s legal codes to understand the ways in which Maryland’s criminal laws reinforce structural racism and inequality. The Commission’s initial findings will be presented in a public report in time for Maryland’s next legislative session.

“As our nation examines the role of law enforcement in our communities, we must also critically analyze the laws they are tasked to enforce. Our current laws criminalize and marginalize people who use drugs, creating additional barriers to accessing care, and ripping communities apart through over-policing, imprisonment, and escalating overdose fatalities, all which disproportionately impact communities of color.  I’m proud to be working with the People’s Commission to critically analyze our State Code and work toward a more just set of laws that enable people to live their lives without fear of police interference.” Tricia Christensen, Policy Manager, Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition and Drug Policy Workgroup Lead.

The People’s Commission believes that legal tools such as state and local criminal codes should work to serve all members of the community. Ultimately, the goal of the Commission is to dramatically reduce the number of unnecessary and unjust arrests and prosecutions, and disrupt the ability of any one person or system to use Maryland’s criminal codes to target and incarcerate those who don’t fit the norms of white dominant culture.

The People’s Commission will be holding an informational webinar on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 from 3-5pm EST to introduce the commission and outline next steps, which include regional listening sessions in the early Fall.  To register for the webinar, please click here.

For a list of participating organizations, click here.


The People’s Commission is a Maryland-based coalition of justice reform leaders committed to repealing and replacing laws that blatantly target and criminalize people based on race, gender, economic status or disability.

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