By Amber Widgery
Catherine Pugh, mayor of Baltimore and former Maryland Senate majority leader, spoke to local criminal justice stakeholders participating in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge as part of a recent panel of elected officials in Chicago.
The Safety and Justice Challenge is a national initiative that has provided more than $148 million in grants to local jurisdictions with the intent of reducing over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.
NCSL is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge as a Strategic Ally.
Pugh told the grantees that her interest in criminal justice was sparked during her tenure in the Maryland General Assembly, and her interest has continued to grow through her new role as mayor.
Pugh said she sees the impact of state action over the past few decades in her city and emphasized that most individuals who are incarcerated return to our communities. She highlighted legislation she worked on in her days at the legislature that has had a positive impact at the local level.
For example, Pugh helped pass legislation that required local correctional facilities to supply inmates, diagnosed with mental illness and incarcerated for more than 60 days, with a 30-day supply of medication upon release. Pugh also talked about her legislative work to remove barriers for returning individuals trying to obtain identification.
She wrapped up by highlighting the importance of education, saying that keeping kids in school longer in Maryland has helped decrease the number of young people getting involved in the justice system in the first place.
Other members of the panel included Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. The panel discussed the need to involve impacted communities and individuals in solution-oriented discussions about criminal justice reform. Pugh said it is hard to get people to realize that what they've been doing isn't working and to re-focus on solutions that are supported by research and data.
The panel also gave advice and inspiration. Pugh encouraged local justice stakeholders to reach out to their state lawmakers and invite the community to do the same. She emphasized that knowledge is power, and it is the responsibility of local stakeholders, like the grantees and herself, to keep the public informed. Abele encouraged the attendees to keep up their efforts and said, "Everyone still does have a heart—don't give up."
Baltimore is one of 12 new cities and counties to receive part of an additional $22 million in grants from the Safety and Justice Challenge. The additional funding also supports the work in 13 sites that were already part of the growing national network of 43 counties, seven cities and two states.
Amber Widgery is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's Criminal Justice Program.