Black Caucus hosts town hall at Tubman Visitor Center
CHURCH CREEK — The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland held a town hall Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek.
The caucus is the first of a series of town halls scheduled around the state. Joining the meeting from the caucus were Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, D-37AWicomico; Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-45-Baltimore; Del. Darryl Barnes, D-25-Prince George’s; Del. Edith Patterson, D-28-Charles; Del. Pamela Queen, D-14-Montgomery; Sen. Will Smith, D20-Montgomery; Del. Tawanna Gaines, D-22-Prince George’s; and Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, D-43-Baltimore City.
The caucus answered questions and spoke about its 2017 priority agenda which included the Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities Equality Lawsuit, medical cannabis, criminal justice, health care and education.
“We are working together for a better community and a better state,” SampleHughes said. “We want your input so we can take that around the state and to Annapolis to make Maryland a better place for everyone.”
The Legislative Black Caucus will hold a public hearing from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, in the joint hearing room in Annapolis. For more information about the public hearing and the priority agenda, visit www. black caucusmd.org.
One of the topics members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland discussed during its town hall was bail bond reforms.
The caucus believes the bail amount a person has been receiving, especially against African-Americans, does not fit the infraction the person is accused of, and can be used to hold someone in jail when they should be free.
“The purpose of bail is to ensure that someone shows up to court, not because someone is a danger,” Smith said. “If you are a danger, you should remain incarcerated. That gets inflated all the time.”
The Maryland judicial system made a rule, which began on July, to make cash bail a last resort for infractions not associated with people considered a danger to society. The Legislative Black Caucus will be studying the data to see if the courts are issues less bail so a person can stay out of jail before their court case, and if there are disparities between different districts in the state.
Smith said people who get incarcerated for a long period of time have an extremely difficult time rejoining society, and an unfair bail amount can severely hurt someone who cannot pay the amount to be free. He said people can lose jobs and their future because a minor infraction leads to long incarceration.
“We find people are more incarcerated, and not because of the severity of their crime, but the scarcity of their resources,” Queen said. “The thought was we need to do something about that. Working with the judicial system, we had a court appeals rule that basically talks about how the judicial system should respond in cases and make cash bail the last resort.”
Glenn said department of justice reports are sickening for how African-Americans have been treated for years with over-inflated bail amounts. She said the overinflated bail amounts issued discriminates against minorities because minorities have lower economic resources, which keeps more minorities locked up.
“We wanted to make sure monthly data is provided from the court so we can have definitive information to say either the rule worked or didn’t work,” she said. “If legislation is needed, we won’t hesitate to do that.”
Barnes said the criminal justice system and education will always be two of the biggest priorities for the Legislative Black Caucus.
“This is a huge concern for the African-American community,” he said. “When you talk about criminal justice reform, that is something that always affects black people and brown people.
“If they put you on home detention, you have to get that ankle monitoring, you have to pay for that,” he said. “I can’t pay for the bail to get out, and they are going to charge me for the ankle bracelet. Now, I’m just told the ankle bracelet is tied to a landline. So most of us now have cell phones, and we don’t have a landline. So if I don’t have a landline, I can’t get the ankle bracelet, so I got to stay in jail.
“This legislation is critically important that we take our time and think things through methodically,” he said. “We are meeting with bail review people. We are meeting with lawyers. We are meeting with everyone to ensure we are making the best possible decision from the legislative standpoint. I commend Delegate Queen and Senator Smith for what they are doing in their respective chambers.”
Queen said the Legislative Black Caucus hopes the new data shows changes in the processes and attitudes for how bail is issued.
“We wanted to see if the judicial system can monitor and correct themselves before we have legislation,” she said. “We are going to see what happens this year, and see the data that comes back. We are hoping the data shows that we have changed attitudes based upon the new rules.”
The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland hosts a town hall with Eastern Shore officials and residents at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek on Wednesday, Aug. 16.