Reason Roundup

Violent Crime in Baltimore Plunges After City Ditches Prosecution of Prostitution, Drug Possession, Other Minor Offenses

Plus: The "infrastructure plan" that isn't, the Institute for Justice challenges cash seizures at airports, and more...


Decarceral experiment in Baltimore gets results. After a year of foregoing prosecution of certain nonviolent misdemeanor crimes, Baltimore has seen a serious drop in violent crimes and property crimes, too. Between March 2020 and March 2021, violent crime in Baltimore dropped 20 percent and property crime dropped 36 percent. Homicides were also down slightly (13 fewer compared to the previous year).

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in March 2020 that her office would dismiss all pending charges for drug possession, prostitution, trespassing, open container, public urination, paraphernalia possession, attempted distribution of drugs, and minor traffic offenses. It would also stop prosecuting new cases for these offenses—a decision born out of the desire to thwart COVID-19 spreading through jails.

Mosby's office dismissed 1,423 pending cases and dismissed 1,415 warrants related to these offenses between March 2020 and March 2021. Now, the change will be permanent.

"The police are going to follow what they've been doing for the past year, which is not arresting people based on the offenses I mentioned," Mosby said at a March 26 press conference. "Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses."

Of course, it doesn't necessarily follow that halting prosecution of some nonviolent offenses actually caused Baltimore's widespread drop in violent and property crimes. For instance, the pandemic and business and school shutdowns alone could explain the decline. But the fact that the pandemic and shutdowns have corresponded to rising violent crime rates in many other U.S. cities casts doubt on their power to explain Baltimore's decrease in both nonviolent and violent offenses.

In any event, Baltimore authorities are keen to continue the experiment. "We leave behind the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer default to the status quo to criminalize mostly people of color for addiction," said Mosby in a statement. "We will develop sustainable solutions and allow our public health partners to do their part to address mental health and substance use disorder."

Mosby's office will be partnering with Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. and other community groups, including the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Baltimore, to help provide a range of services to those who need them.

"The decision not to prosecute drug and nonviolent misdemeanor crimes meant a huge paradigm shift for police, Commissioner Michael Harrison said in an interview," according to The Washington Post. "Officers who made drug arrests saw prosecutors dismissing the charges at the jail, and so the arrests mainly stopped. Mosby said there were 80 percent fewer arrests for drug possession in Baltimore in the past year."

Overall incarceration in the city of Baltimore "is down 18% during COVID and the data reveals there has been a 39% decrease in people entering the criminal justice system compared to this time last year," the city says.

A study from the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office and Johns Hopkins University researchers found that of the 1,431 people whose charges or warrants were dismissed at the start of Baltimore's criminal justice experiment, only five were rearrested for any crime. In addition:

The data showed that 911 calls about drug use, public intoxication and sex work (a proxy for public concern) did not increase following the policy; rather, from March – December 2020, there was a 33% reduction in calls mentioning drugs and a 50% reduction in calls mentioning sex work compared to the prior 2 years.

Professor Susan Sherman of Johns Hopkins says, "The fact that we saw drops in 911 calls and recidivism for these offenses shows us that communities are less impacted by these announcements than one might assume. The trend is different for other offenses during that time period. The policy is therefore making a positive impact on communities."


The Institute for Justice (IJ) can move forward with a case challenging cash seizures at airports by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents. From IJ:

When travelers go online to find out whether it is legal to fly with cash, the government tells them that there are no restrictions on traveling with any amount of money on domestic flights. What it does not tell flyers is that, upon seeing cash, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners will detain them and turn them over to law enforcement, who will take their money without any cause for suspicion and without filing any criminal charges.

Now, a Fourth Amendment, class action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ) to end these unconstitutional practices by the TSA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will move forward in federal court after a judge rejected the government's motion to dismiss.


President Joe Biden's "infrastructure plan" is just another omnibus spending and regulation measure. The $2 trillion proposal from the president would "force non-union workers to pay union dues even in states that have explicitly said that's not mandatory," as Eric Boehm pointed out in yesterday's Reason Roundup. It would allocate $10 billion for a Civilian Climate Corps, $174 billion in subsidies for electric vehicles, $12 billion for community colleges, and $25 billion "to help upgrade child care facilities and increase the supply of child care in areas that need it most." Some $5 billion would go to violence prevention initiatives. And that's only some of the spending unrelated or tangentially related to infrastructure.

In terms of spending on infrastructure, Biden's plan is less concerned with what works and more concerned with launching a massive jobs creation program, as Reason's Christian Britschgi notes:

The president said in his speech today that his American Jobs Plan would replace the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country, but otherwise omitted details about what specific projects he'd like to fund.

Biden's transportation infrastructure plans are "vague because the focus is all on the second-order effects of transportation, not on actual transportation," says Adrian Moore, vice president of research at the Reason Foundation. "It's all about what's going to happen for equity or climate change or suburban development."

Indeed, one can see that in the very name of the American Jobs Plan, the title of which does not mention infrastructure. That's more than a rhetorical point. The focus on jobs, and particularly unionized American jobs, means that Biden's $2 trillion spending plan will buy a lot less infrastructure than it otherwise could.


• More on the Matt Gaetz saga, from me, from the Washington Examiner, and from The Daily Beast.

Reason's Peter Suderman serves up weird, delicious cocktail recipes:

• New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the state's new marijuana legalization measure into law yesterday.

Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler corrects the record on a repeated Biden claim about the new Georgia voting law:

• "Police investigators say Michael Forest Reinoehl, a Portland, Oregon, activist wanted for killing another man during ongoing street battles in that city last summer, likely shot at police before he was killed by a fugitive task force in Lacey, Washington, last September," reports Reason's C.J. Ciaramella.

• Psychology professor Kevin Nadal and the Anti-Defamation League's Steven Freeman debate hate crime laws on the excellent Jane Coaston podcast, The Argument.