Baltimore City mayor Catherine Pugh delivered her 2019 state of the city speech on Monday, March 11, 2019. Her presentation was informative, identifying accomplishments like the new police commissioner; a 10 percent reduction in the murder rate; neighborhood investments; and free community college, as well as some challenges, including: crime, affordable housing, youth employment opportunities, and the cost of potable water.
One very important area the mayor was remiss to address is the problem of how to handle the thousands of ex-offenders returning to the streets of Baltimore annually. A major problem whose ramifications are reflected mostly in the city’s crime and violence statistics.
Among Baltimore’s population of 621,000, the incarceration rate is 1,255 per 100,000 residents, compared to 455 per 100,000 nationally, and 329 per 100,000 statewide. Baltimore City incarcerates citizens nearly three times more than the U.S. government, and nearly four more than the State.
Despite only one of ten Marylanders reside in Baltimore City more than one in three of Maryland’s prison inmates are from the city. Approximately 10,000 ex-offenders return to the streets of Baltimore City from prison cells annually. With a recidivism rate of 40 percent over three years, 4000 of these ex-offenders will be re-incarcerated within 36 months. This is a sad but dynamic paradigm for several reasons.
Young men are coming of age in a consumer-driven, bling-coveting, violence-drenched popular culture in neighborhoods of barren, scarred cityscapes, bereft of stable homes, well-equipped schools, meaningful employment opportunities, overflowing with deadly intoxicants, and a pervasive sense of perpetual desperation.
Consider those circumstances within the context of their anger for historic treatment in America as chattel, being considered 3/5 of a man, having been beat down or witnessed beat downs by police, and too many young African American men may develop a deep-seated animosity towards the world bordering on pathological.
Suppose these characteristics upon someone who is illiterate, unable to understand, interpret or decipher the world around him, unable to negotiate a store transaction, complete a job or benefits application, follow directions, or figure out a bus or train schedule.
For those who somehow make their way without resulting to law breaking, without new resources, improved environment or drastic intervention the chances are successive generations of their families and communities will devolve into the same morass of poverty, ignorance, drug and alcohol dependence, and possible violence and criminality.
“Eighty-five percent of all juveniles who come into the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. So are 60 percent of all prison inmates. Inmates have a 16 percent chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70 percent for those who receive no help,” according to invisiblechild.org.
While this scenario describes an incubating subculture that is antithetical to the dominant American culture, the converse is happening at the same time, in the same place, exacerbating already dire circumstances.
Ex-offenders are not only competing with thousands of other ex-offenders for scarce resources, they are competing with tens of thousands more undereducated, uneducated and/or illiterate residents with no criminal backgrounds for those same resources. Worst of all perhaps, thousands of ex-offenders are returning to Baltimore communities annually, bringing the prison culture with them.
An already violent street culture is being infiltrated with a higher level of viciousness, imbued with the ferocious creed of prison gangs, onto Baltimore’s streets. The revolving prison and street cultures are evolving as two edges of the same deadly blade holding Baltimore captive to steadily increasing mayhem. Michael Harrison cannot police his way out of this alone. It will require everyone.
Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in politics & history. Regi encourages your feedback on his opinions and will respond in print to ALL replies that do not use vulgarity or profanity. Contact: email@example.com