In recent years, the Maryland General Assembly has introduced and enacted several bills to reduce the collateral consequences that often flow from criminal records. In light of Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015, the pace of these bills has intensified dramatically. This semester, students in the Reentry/Criminal Records Legal Theory and Practice course submitted written testimony and presented oral testimony to committees in the State legislature in connection with a couple of these bills.
On March 1, 2016, 3L Yasmin Mahmoud testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill that aims to prevent individuals from returning to jail or prison from probation, parole, or pretrial release based solely on a positive urinalysis for marijuana. This bill is consistent with Maryland’s recent decriminalization of possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana. The bill also recognizes the heavy toll that “technical” violations of probation and parole exact on individuals, families, and communities, as well as the crushing financial costs they impose on the State.
Second year law student Lauren Harrison testified separately on “Reentry Lobby Day,” an annual day of action in Annapolis that brings together individuals directly impacted by criminal records and a wide array of advocates to engage legislators and testify on criminal record-related bills. Ms. Harrison testified in favor of a bill that seeks to expand expungement eligibility for individuals who receive a probation before judgment disposition. This bill continues the recent momentum in Maryland to allow individuals to remove from their criminal records charges that did not result in conviction. For many, these charges (even absent a conviction) impose similar barriers to employment and housing as do charges that ended in conviction. This is particularly true because in Maryland court records are freely and easily available on the internet.
Through these experiences, the students learned about legislative advocacy and cherished the opportunity to effect change. Speaking of her recent experience, Ms. Mahmoud has said she “enjoyed advocating for a bill that aims to reduce the reflexive use of incarceration in ways that devastate many individuals.” Ms. Harrison similarly reflected, “it was very exciting to testify in support of removing the last part of the subsequent conviction rule. I felt like I was really making a difference in the lives of many people in Maryland.”