DEAR CHAIRMAN AND WORKGROUP MEMBERS,
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.