Today, Tara Huffman, director of OSI’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program, testified before the Maryland General Assembly’s Task Force to Study Crime Classification and Penalties, chaired by Baltimore City Senator Mary Washington. Huffman spoke on behalf of the People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland, which OSI helped to establish in 2019.
Huffman said the purpose of the People’s Commission is to identify areas of the criminal code in which behaviors that pose no threat to public safety are criminalized in a way that targets people based on their race, gender, disability or socio-economic status.
“One of the reasons why we are seeing such negative encounters and sometimes harmful encounters between the police and citizens is because police are being asked to intervene in people’s lives, people’s affairs, and people’s behaviors in ways that don’t have anything to do with public safety,” she said. “But when you look at the way the law is written and when you look at the way the law is applied, you come to find that it’s more because that person is of a certain race or ethnicity, because of that person’s gender or the way they express their gender, because that person is experiencing poverty in some certain way, or because that person is experiencing some sort of disability, whether it be a behavioral disability or physical disability.”
She went on to describe the Commission’s work thus far, including the work of subgroups looking at laws related to drug policy, homelessness, poverty, sex work, and youth. You can watch the whole Task Force meeting here.