Violent Crime in Baltimore Plunges After City Ditches Prosecution of Prostitution, Drug Possession, Other Minor Offenses
Decarceral experiment in Baltimore gets results. After a year of foregoing prosecution of certain nonviolent misdemeanor crimes, Baltimore has seen a serious drop in violent crimes and property crimes, too. Between March 2020 and March 2021, violent crime in Baltimore dropped 20 percent and property crime dropped 36 percent. Homicides were also down slightly (13 fewer compared to the previous year).
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in March 2020 that her office would dismiss all pending charges for drug possession, prostitution, trespassing, open container, public urination, paraphernalia possession, attempted distribution of drugs, and minor traffic offenses. It would also stop prosecuting new cases for these offenses—a decision born out of the desire to thwart COVID-19 spreading through jails.
Mosby’s office dismissed 1,423 pending cases and dismissed 1,415 warrants related to these offenses between March 2020 and March 2021. Now, the change will be permanent.
“The police are going to follow what they’ve been doing for the past year, which is not arresting people based on the offenses I mentioned,” Mosby said at a March 26 press conference. “Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses.”
Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that halting prosecution of some nonviolent offenses actually caused Baltimore’s widespread drop in violent and property crimes. For instance, the pandemic and business and school shutdowns alone could explain the decline. But the fact that the pandemic and shutdowns have corresponded to rising violent crime rates in many other U.S. cities casts doubt on their power to explain Baltimore’s decrease in both nonviolent and violent offenses.
In any event, Baltimore authorities are keen to continue the experiment. “We leave behind the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer default to the status quo to criminalize mostly people of color for addiction,” said Mosby in a statement. “We will develop sustainable solutions and allow our public health partners to do their part to address mental health and substance use disorder.”
Mosby’s office will be partnering with Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. and other community groups, including the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Baltimore, to help provide a range of services to those who need them.
“The decision not to prosecute drug and nonviolent misdemeanor crimes meant a huge paradigm shift for police, Commissioner Michael Harrison said in an interview,” according to The Washington Post. “Officers who made drug arrests saw prosecutors dismissing the charges at the jail, and so the arrests mainly stopped. Mosby said there were 80 percent fewer arrests for drug possession in Baltimore in the past year.”
Overall incarceration in the city of Baltimore “is down 18% during COVID and the data reveals there has been a 39% decrease in people entering the criminal justice system compared to this time last year,” the city says.
A study from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and Johns Hopkins University researchers found that of the 1,431 people whose charges or warrants were dismissed at the start of Baltimore’s criminal justice experiment, only five were rearrested for any crime. In addition:
The data showed that 911 calls about drug use, public in
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