Mass Incarceration in Baltimore

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By: Mariana and Christina

Mass incarceration emerged nationwide with jailing citizens at unprecedented amounts during Reagan’s war on drugs in the late 1980s. It was further encouraged, supported, and fueled by mandatory sentencing minimums for drug possession and many more correctional facilities opening under the Clinton administration in 1990s. Specifically in the Baltimore community, governor Martin O’Malley had a tremendous impact on the rates of incarceration with his zero tolerance policy. In 2005, under Martin O’Malley’s zero tolerance policy, there were 108,000 arrests in Baltimore City. The total city population at the time was 620,000.

Currently, impoverished and struggling communities in Baltimore continue to receive the greatest hit in terms of individuals incarcerated. A timely example, regarding last April’s uprising is the neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, which is among one of the most poor and neglected communities in Baltimore. Sandtown-Winchester is where Freddy Gray resided before his encounter with the police and ultimate death. The Maryland state budget allocates 17 million dollars each year for solely incarceration. This means that it takes 37,000 dollars to maintain each individual assailant in custody. This disproportional allocation of resources can be explained, at least in part, by the myth that incarceration leads to improved public safety. It is important to note that this misplaced investment, if otherwise directed, could largely benefit communities like Sandtown-Winchester. Outlined in the table below are some of the manners in which the community would benefit from a redistribution of the money allocated to incarceration each year:

Alternative to incarceration Cost per person Number that could be served with $37,000
Drug treatment for adults $ 4,494 8 people
Employment training $ 5,000 7 people
Housing (per month) $ 1,252 30 families
GED course $ 1,000 37 people

Source: Notes: Drug Treatment for Adults – Outpatient, per episode cost for one adult, Baltimore Behavioral Health System, FY13, Employment Training – Average Cost Of 100, Baltimore-Based Maryland Workforce Exchange Job Education Programs oriented toward earning a certificate,Housing – Rent for one month. Assumes two people living in a two bedroom apartment in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area. Althea Arnold and Sheila Crowley, Out Of Reach(Washington, DC: National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2014), pg. 100. GED Course: South Baltimore Learns GED – Personal correspondence with South Baltimore Learns, 8/6/2014.

As displayed in the graphic, it is evident that 17 million dollars could stretch much further than incarceration and provide much needed skills based assistance for individuals struggling in neglected communities. However, despite the lack of appropriate investment in these programs designed to help families thrive in these communities, activists have taken matters into their own hands in bettering their community.

More than nine decades ago, the American Friends Services Committee (AFSC) was formed by a Quaker group during World War I. Their main goal is to promote peace with justice through nonviolence. The helps people worldwide with issues regarding war and violence, and focus on getting to the root of the issue to try and solve it.

The AFSC has also made efforts to address and improve on the issue of mass incarceration. AFSC staff members Dominque Stevenson and Farajii Muhammad, who were active members of the protests in Baltimore in April 2015, have made many efforts in Baltimore to address the media and inform them of the root causes of the conflicts; racism and mass incarceration. The AFSC also has two programs in Baltimore to improve on the mass incarceration issue; The Friend of a Friend Program, and the Peace by Piece Program.

The Friend of a Friend Program brings together young men in correctional facilities, with mentors to help develop the skills needed to avoid violent situations. The main goal of this program is to provide the tools necessary to create healthy relationships, support structures, and develop effective communication skill for these men. The men participate in weekly meetings where they work on anger management and coping skills, and they also role play potentially frustrating scenarios where they would have to determine an solution to the problem, other than violence. This ultimately helps the men prepare themselves for a successful return home.

Lastly, the Peace by Piece Program works with people ages, 16-35 to foster unity, and peace in Baltimore communities. It allows for young people to build relationships in their communities and to serve them and volunteer, to make their activism more impactful, with the overall goal of impacting the lives of the young men and women and turning them into leaders. These programs, as a part of the AFSC are forms of activism that encourage reconciliation over incarceration.

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