Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, defunded, votes to keep meeting

There was no free food at the last Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting. 

The CJCC, a state-funded consortium of political leaders, prosecutors, state officials, judges, and police that has existed since 1999 in a bid to manage the basic elements of the courts, jails, treatment programs, diversion programs, and criminal case scheduling in Baltimore City, was summarily de-funded by Gov. Larry Hogan last month, when the chairman, Charles Peters, declined to meet with the governor to discuss criminal justice.

Judge Peters still has a job. 

Kimberly Smalkin Barranco, the CJCC's Executive Director, doesn't. Neither does Project Coordinator Margaret Boyd-Anderson.

Both women sat at Peters' right hand today in room 510 of Courthouse East as he thanked them for their many years of service, garnering them a standing ovation from the assembled committee members. "They have positively impacted the lives of everyone in the criminal justice system," the judge said. "I think the city will really miss all your hard work."

The work involved herding various members to follow through with promised reforms or changes to protocol. This included such esoteric stuff as making sure people with outstanding arrest warrants were not released from jail or prison, and making sure no-contact orders were served on abusive spouses before the court date. It was about speeding up the case management, so defendants did not languish in jail longer than necessary before trial. And finding ways to get people with substance-use disorders into treatment instead of jail.

The CJCC also opened a window on all this for reporters and, hence, the public: The minutes of all meetings were published on schedule, and CJCC meetings, held most months on a Wednesday afternoon, were an excellent place for a reporter to buttonhole the mayor, police commissioner, City Council president, or U.S. Attorney. The free sandwiches, chips, and soda were a bonus.

What the CJCC never really did is fight crime. This became a problem.

In August, Hogan asked for a meeting with the CJCC to discuss the city's exploding violent crime rate. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has decried short and suspended sentences for violent offenders, and Hogan says he is introducing "truth-in-sentencing" legislation. He held a "summit" and invited judges to attend; Peters announced that it would be improper for judges to do so. The meeting—with other CJCC members but without the judges—was closed to the press. 

On Sept. 15, Hogan announced he was cutting CCJC's funding and would send the $275,000 instead to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. The CJCC is not fulfilling its mission, Hogan said in a letter to Peters: "Given the current level of violent crime in Baltimore City, it is only common sense that the CJCC prioritize addressing violent crime."

Peters disagrees. The CJCC is an administrative coordinating body, not a crime-strategy-setting body, he said last month, according to the meeting minutes. 

"The judiciary respects your role," he said, responding in today's meeting to Mayor Catherine Pugh's plea for cooperation in the fight against crime. "But we can never, ever be seen as your ally or the ally of law enforcement."

Peters opened the meeting to ask if members wanted to continue to meet even without funding for support staff. He asked those who wanted to keep meeting to raise their hands, and this set off a long-back-and-forth in which various members recounted the good work they have been able to do, and lamented that such work would be impossible without Barranco and Boyd-Anderson. It took the group most of an hour to address the chairman's question. Finally he restated, this time asking them to opt-out. 

"Who does not want to participate? Raise your right hand."

No hands went up.

And with that, without money, without staff, the CJCC will soldier on.

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