Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has kicked off each of the past few years with an announcement expanding the list of charges that her office will no longer prosecute, making a notable dent in rates of mass incarceration and demonstrating to the city that the sky won’t fall if police stop busting people for non-violent offenses such as drug possession.
In January 2019, Mosby announced that her office would no longer be prosecuting cannabis possession cases in Baltimore, regardless of the amount of cannabis involved or of a person’s past arrest record, building on the 2014 state-level decriminalization of weed.
In March 2020, Mosby’s office announced that due to the pandemic, in an attempt to reduce unnecessary police interaction and jailing, a number of non-violent offenses such as drug possession, sex work, open container, and more would also no longer be prosecuted by her office.
In March 2021, Mosby’s office made those temporary policies permanent.
Into 2022, however, Mosby is under federal indictment for a myriad of tax issues—and her recent public pronouncements have not been about policy, but about her “innocence.” On national television, and in some increasingly petty court filings, Mosby has framed her indictment as a betrayal by city officials and an attack on her office due to her “progressive policies.”
On an MSNBC appearance earlier this month, Mosby, present with her lawyer, suggested to host Joy Reid that she is being attacked by the feds because she is “fighting for racial justice in the criminal justice system, fighting to end mass incarceration in a state where we have the largest incarceration of Black people in the entire nation.”
To get a sense of the impact of these policies, Battleground Baltimore looked at the number of cases dropped and people released in 2021, and we compared that to data from the previous two years of prosecutorial reforms within Mosby’s office.
In 2019, the year the non-prosecuting cannabis possession policy was introduced, there were 57 cannabis possession cases that were released without charges (RWOC)—which means that, while the arrestee was still in Central Booking, the charge was dismissed—and 181 cases that were dropped before trial.
In 2020, 17 cannabis possession cases were RWOC’d and 25 cannabis cases were dropped.
In 2021, there were 2 RWOC’d cannabis possession cases and 3 dropped cannabis cases.
For drug possession cases in total in 2020 (that includes the cannabis numbers above), there were 155 cases where the person was released without charges and 585 drug possession cases dropped. In 2021, there were 29 people released without charges and 57 dropped drug possession cases.
In 2020, there were 223 sex work charges dismissed. In 2021, 27 sex work charges were dismissed. No one arrested for sex work was released without charges in 2020 or 2021.
In 2020, as a result of these non-prosecutorial policies, there were 1,400 warrants quashed. In 2021, that number was zero.
“There remain outstanding warrants, and there is a plan to quash them, but staffing capacity and the courts reopening for much of the year meant that we have been unable to work on them while we focus on clearing the backlog of regular cases,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office spokesperson Zy Richardson said.
For Mosby’s critics and some of her political opponents, including Ivan Bates and Roya Hanna, who are both currently running for State’s Attorney, it is these policies that have led to crime and chaos in Baltimore City. These criticisms are an extension of the fraught and often fact-free claims that so-called “bail reform” is creating more crime. Data does not bear this out, but the claims persist.
Looking at the actual numbers of those who avoided lengthy incarceration because of Mosby’s policies, it seems impossible that fewer than 300 people not prosecuted for sex work and fewer than a thousand people not prosecuted for drug possession over two years could change the mood and tenor of crime in the city or lead to increased “lawlessness.”
Additionally, a report by Johns Hopkins University showed that these policies did not lead to increased crime. “Findings describe a changing landscape of arrest and prosecution among individuals engaged in substance use and sex work, groups that are well-understood to experience intersecting vulnerabilities and unmet health needs in Baltimore City and elsewhere. We observed reduced involvement with the criminal legal system among these groups, accompanied by no evidence of increases in public concern or elevated re-offense among policy beneficiaries,” the report said.
Also, crime in Baltimore City has not notably increased since 2019. As Battleground Baltimore noted a couple of weeks ago, “Baltimore City has been experiencing a so-called ‘crime spike’ for most of the past 30 years—and, occasionally, that spike has been even more pronounced.”
Equally hard to believe, however, are Mosby’s claims that it is because of her office’s non-prosecution policies that she was federally indicted. According to Mosby, these policies and her decision to charge six officers with Freddie Gray’s death (she failed to secure a single conviction) are why the powers-that-be, including the Biden administration-appointed United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek Barron and Assistant US Attorney Leo Wise (who himself successfully prosecuted seven corrupt Baltimore cops), are coming after her.
The rhetorical back-and-forth over these policies will surely continue as Mosby’s trial related to her tax charges begins in May and the election for State’s Attorney is in June. Also in May, Keith Davis Jr., a man shot by police and later charged with a murder, goes to trial again—the fifth time Mosby’s office has attempted to try him for the same murder.
The most significant effect of Mosby’s policies is in adjusting how these non-violent crimes are policed. Decreases in the number of dropped drug or sex work charges is primarily indicative of there being fewer of those charges made in the year after the policies were introduced.
The police are—despite complaints from the police union—taking the SAO’s policies seriously and making fewer arrests in these categories.
“We do believe that BPD has largely been following the policies, and the Commissioner issued a memo to that effect, which is possibly why the numbers have declined year by year,” the SAO’s Richardson explained.
The past two years in arrests and drug offense arrests show a steady decline—one that began in 2015 after cannabis was decriminalized—and those numbers have continued to drop.
In 2020, there were 16,204 arrests in total. 1,348 of them were drug offenses.
In 2021, there were 13,592 arrests in total. 1,046 of them were drug offenses.
In Baltimore City, less than 10% of arrests are for drug offenses. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts study, as of 2019, drug offenses accounted for 1 in 10 arrests nationally.
Another policy introduced by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office was an early release program for some people in prison during the pandemic. Much of that work has apparently stopped.
“The teams were organized for the initial months of the pandemic (post March 2020) and were largely fielding requests from OPD [Office of the Public Defender], the defense bar, and DPSCS [Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services] that came separate from regular bail reviews, probation work, etc. that the office does in a normal year,” SAO spokesperson Zy Richardson said.
In 2020, the SAO’s Probation Team reviewed 123 cases and chose 50 for release. In 2021, the number reviewed and released was zero.
In 2020, the SAO’s Pre-Trial Team reviewed 175 cases and recommended 58 for release. In 2021, that number was zero.
In 2020, the SAO’s Early Release Team reviewed 120 cases and recommended 39 for release. In 2021, that number was zero.