Commentary: Juvenile sentencing bill is about politics, not reducing crime

Nancy Gertner and Andre Davis, The Baltimore Banner •
Baltimore City Hall

Amid media reports about juvenile offenders, politicians rush to appear tough on crime.

It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maryland is among states poised to roll back or repeal bipartisan criminal justice reforms, including reforms for children, teenagers and young adults, even when the evidence is clear that they should not.

We are former federal judges. We have seen this movie before.

When crime goes up, moral panic ensues and politicians compete with one another to enact tough-on-crime measures, such as mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws and pushing more adolescents into the adult criminal justice system. This is so, even when scholars such as those who wrote “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States,” a landmark report from the National Academy of Sciences, made clear that little to no relationship exists between harsh penalties and crime rates. Yet, when crime declines, the system rarely self corrects. Politicians don’t seek lower penalties, prosecutors charge as they always have and even judges resist moderating sentences. Things remain the same — that is, until the next crime spike or celebrated offense.

This is the recipe for mass incarceration and a rate of imprisonment higher than that of any other Western country.


About the Expert

Judge Nancy Gertner is a graduate of Barnard College and Yale Law School where she was an editor on The Yale Law Journal. She received her M.A. in Political Science at Yale University. She has been an instructor at Yale Law School, teaching sentencing and comparative sentencing institutions, since 1998. She was appointed to the bench in 1994 by President Clinton. In 2008 she received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association, Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, only the second woman to receive it (Justice Ginsburg was the first). In 2010 she received the

Judge Andre Davis (retired) received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his J.D., with honors, from the University of Maryland School of Law. Upon graduation from law school, he completed one-year clerkships on the U.S. District Court in Baltimore and on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Thereafter, he served as an appellate attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, where he handled both civil and criminal cases. He later was in private