More than 21,000 people were arrested in Maryland last year and later released without charges, 16,000 of them in Baltimore, says the Baltimore Sun. After they were freed, their arrest records lived on – photographs, fingerprints, reports and more, tucked away in police files and able to keep innocent people from getting jobs, mortgages, financial aid, and professional licenses. A proposed state law that would wipe out those arrest records, a measure proponents say could undo a fundamental injustice for thousands of people. Arrests without charges have been a point of contention in Baltimore for years as police have aggressively cracked down on quality-of-life violations, such as loitering and public disturbances, in an effort to eliminate the conditions in which more serious crimes flourish.
Though some in the community applauded the efforts and demanded more enforcement, others called it a violation of civil liberties. Many of those involved in the criminal justice system have united behind the expungement effort, saying it is the state’s duty to clear the names of those arrested but not charged. “To me, it’s a matter of justice,” said chief Baltimore prosecutor Patricia Jessamy, who supports the bill. “These are individuals whose arrests brought no official charges. There are numerous impediments these citizens face every single day when it comes to getting jobs, getting housing, getting student loans. If you are in school, an arrest can really impede progress.”