The Open Society Institute-Baltimore endorses the closure of the Baltimore City Detention Center (“the jail”), a notorious facility that has, for decades, posed a serious risk to detainees, staff, family members and the broader Baltimore community. As the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services moves forward to end this shameful chapter in the state’s history, it is imperative that state and City stakeholders work together to leverage this unique opportunity to reduce unnecessary incarceration safely and to reinvest the savings to improve community safety.
First, the state should immediately apply a validated risk assessment instrument to each and every detainee subject to transfer to determine how many of them can be released safely into the community with some or no supervision while awaiting trial. Ninety-four percent of people under the supervision of Baltimore’s Pretrial Release Services Program show up for their court dates, and only four percent are arrested for a new charge while on release. These statistics demonstrate that release and community supervision are safe alternatives to pretrial detention.
Second, the state must place priority on access to justice and family preservation when deciding where to transfer those detainees who, according to a validated risk instrument, pose a public safety risk that warrants pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees rely heavily on family and community systems to support them through the trial phase. Correctional facilities located outside of Baltimore, however, are not easily accessible via public transportation. Every effort should be made to keep detainees in Baltimore City, close to their homes, their legal counsel and the community services that can assist them with their defense and, if needed, their rehabilitation.
Finally, the state should immediately put in place mechanisms to capture any savings from the jail’s closure and reinvest those savings in programs and services that help keep people out of jail. The Justice Policy Institute, an Open Society Institute-Baltimore grantee, estimates that releasing 1,000 people from Baltimore’s jail system and placing them under community supervision while they await trial could save Maryland taxpayers almost $3 million per month—money that could be used to help people succeed in the community instead of languishing in overcrowded jails.
Baltimore’s jail system has become famous for all the wrong reasons, but the Governor’s announcement is a perfect opportunity to reimagine jail in Baltimore. The Open Society Institute-Baltimore firmly believes that, by using common sense approaches, we can enhance public safety, make more responsible use of our resources, and reduce the damaging effects mass incarceration has on families and communities in Baltimore.