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October 25, 2010

Maryland's gubernatorial candidates do criminal justice cross-overs

Today's Baltimore Sun has this interesting new articleheadlined "Candidates cross party lines on criminal justice: O'Malley, Ehrlich differ on death penalty, rehabilitation."  Here are excerpts:

In a state that consistently ranks among the nation's most dangerous, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Gov. Martin O'Malley defy partisan stereotypes in their approaches to crime.

O'Malley, the Democrat, describes public safety as "the foundation of everything," and his zero-tolerance arrest policy as mayor of Baltimore helped to position him as a law-and-order candidate for governor four years ago.

Ehrlich, the Republican, likes to remind voters of the controversial policy, which critics say resulted in the arrests of innocent people, and which was particularly unpopular with the African-American voters both campaigns covet.  His own views on criminal justice — particularly his focus on rehabilitation — might resonate among the Democrats he needs to attract to win in a state where Republicans are outnumbered 2-to-1. "If you assist in doing justice, you're doing the job as governor," Ehrlich said.

Both lawyers by trade with family ties to law enforcement, Ehrlich and O'Malley have championed many of the same ideas: improving the state's criminal DNA database, protecting witnesses to crime, strengthening laws targeting sexual predators and reforming juvenile justice.

In other areas, the governors have distinct differences.  Ehrlich supports the death penalty; O'Malley worked to eliminate it.  O'Malley has not granted parole to anyone with a life sentence; Ehrlich maintained a robust clemency program....

Ehrlich says he would reinstate the death penalty, which O'Malley has effectively halted. At the same time, Ehrlich says, he would restart a review process for lifetime prisoners whom the parole commission believes are deserving of parole.  He says he would return his focus to the juvenile justice system, which has struggled with high recidivism rates and security problems under both governors.

O'Malley, too, vows a renewed commitment to juvenile justice, a department reeling this year from the beating death of a teacher at the Cheltenham Youth Facility and a subsequent audit showing disarray throughout the department.  O'Malley says he wants to "set no limits" on how much the state can reduce crime.

Maryland's homicide rate reached a 35-year low last year as violent crime nationwide continued to decline.  A report published in April by CQ Press ranked the state the eighth most dangerous in the nation; it ranked second in murder and robbery....

O'Malley's wife is a Baltimore District Court judge; his father was a Montgomery County prosecutor.  O'Malley began his career as a city prosecutor and was elected mayor on a crime-fighting platform.  He says he became "obsessed" with crime as a city politician.

Ehrlich's wife was a public defender, and his grandfather was a city police officer.  Ehrlich himself was a congressman on Sept. 11, 2001, and was inaugurated governor in 2003, as state and national leaders responded to new homeland security concerns....

The candidates have taken some party-line-crossing positions on prison services.  Ehrlich refers frequently to "savables," and identifies RESTART, a program that provides inmates with education, counseling and reentry services from the moment they enter prison, as one of his greatest criminal justice accomplishments.  He acknowledges that his "focus on the treatment regime runs counter" to the priorities of many fellow Republicans.

O'Malley, meanwhile, has called RESTART a dangerous diversion of public safety dollars away from security.  He says he prefers to view prison, parole and probation and juvenile services primarily as law enforcers, rather than as service agencies.  He says he has sharpened the focus of parole and probation so that agents now devote the most time to the most dangerous people.

"We used to supervise so many people so little that we effectively supervised no one," he said.  "Now we supervise very intensely a smaller number of really high-risk offenders and are constantly improving our ability to send them back to jail as quickly as we can when they reoffend or violate the terms of their probation."

Regular readers can probably guess whom I am rooting for in the state in which I spent my first two decades. (For the record, no candidate has ever sought out an SL&P endorsement, which perhaps shows how savvy politicians truly are.)

October 25, 2010 at 09:29 AM | Permalink


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These stances don't really cross party lines, stereotypes aside. Rather, there is a longstanding bipartisan "dumb tuff on crime" consensus that the Republican is (mildly) bucking. The D's stance is pretty typical of most Democrats, who routinely promote themselves as being tuffer-than-thou. In Texas, the majority of bills creating new crimes or "enhancing" penalties for old ones have long come from Dems and it was our last Democratic governor, Ann Richards, who successfully pushed to triple the size of our prison system.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Oct 25, 2010 12:53:03 PM

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