Set of bills to concentrate on racial gap, death penalty

February 02, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore delegate introduced a package of bills yesterday that call for a moratorium on the death penalty and ending disparate treatment of African-Americans in the criminal justice system.

The dozen bills address various parts of the justice system, including juvenile detention, adult sentencing, parole and death row.

"We want people to look at the death penalty as part of a continuum and not to deal with it in isolation," said Del. Salima S. Marriott, a 40th District Democrat.

One bill seeks to prevent juveniles from being held in adult prisons until they are convicted as adults, while another aims to establish an advisory council to find out why young blacks are sent into the juvenile system in disproportionate numbers.

Marriott said the most important bill is the one asking for a three-year moratorium on the death penalty. If passed, the moratorium would be in effect until June 30, 2003, a year after completion of a study on the administration of Maryland's death penalty.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who supports the death penalty, has requested $225,000 for the study in this year's budget.

"At least we should stop executions until that study is completed," Marriott said.

Racial disparity on Maryland's death row has been an issue in the General Assembly in recent years. A state task force in 1996 noted that 14 of the state's 17 death row inmates were black, and found that disparity "cause for concern."

The package of bills had its beginnings last fall, during an annual meeting of Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus. Marriott is chairwoman of the group's law and justice committee.

Also on Monday, juvenile justice advocates met in Annapolis and asked for measures similar to those listed in Marriott's package. They, too, said they were concerned about the disparate treatment blacks receive.

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