How Maryland Came to Repeal Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders

Post Date: June 2, 2016

(Washington Post) — About 1,600 prisoners serving long sentences in Maryland will become eligible for early release in October 2017, just as the state does away with mandatory minimum prison time for newly convicted, nonviolent drug offenders.

Taken together, advocates said, the changes put Maryland at the forefront of states that are adopting major criminal-justice reform.

No longer will a person convicted of possession with intent to distribute even a small amount of drugs face an automatic prison sentence of 10 years. And hundreds of nonviolent offenders who have been given severe penalties over the past three decades will be able to appeal to a judge to get out years ahead of schedule.

But the state’s decision to jettison mandatory minimum sentences almost did not happen.

The provision was not ­included in the sweeping criminal-justice­ legislation submitted to the General Assembly late last year, in part because of strong opposition from law enforcement and key Republicans.

It was added after two freshman lawmakers — a Democrat and a Republican — brokered a deal that also includes stricter penalties for certain violent crimes.

“No state has gone as far as Maryland in recent memory,” said Gregory Newburn, the director of state policy at Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a national advocacy group.

At the bill-signing last month, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called the legislation “the largest, most comprehensive criminal-justice reform in Maryland in a generation.” Read more.