Skip Navigation

Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Subscribe Now

Op/ed: Longer Prison Terms Won’t End Gun Violence in Baltimore

UMD Researcher Argues Proposed State Legislation Would Harm Communities Without Deterring Violent Crime

By Heather Warnken and Joseph Richardson

flashing sirens on police car

Proposed state legislation that would bump maximum penalties for illegal gun possession from three to five years won't reduce crime as much as consistent enforcement of existing law would, a UMD researcher and a colleague argued in a recent essay.

Photo by Shutterstock

Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates recently spoke before the Maryland General Assembly to throw his support behind a bill mandating stiffer prison terms for illegal gun possessions, a step he and other supporters of the legislation call necessary to deter gun crime.

But in a recent essay in The Baltimore Banner from Joseph Richardson, the Joel and Kim Feller professor of African American studies and anthropology, he and co-author Heather Warnken, executive director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore Francis King Carey School of Law, argue that approach would create more crime and weaken vulnerable communities.

The evidence is simply not there to support this bill. In fact, a great deal of evidence suggests it will be harmful to public safety.

Studies demonstrate that longer prison sentences do not deter crime. When any minimal deterrent effect is detected, it is substantially outweighed by the cost to the community. Unnecessary incarceration increases the risk of that individual being involved in future crime, because most people return to their communities more vulnerable than they were before.

The reality is that most people are not aware of or weighing criminal penalties when making the decision about whether to possess a gun, especially when motivated by their own survival.

Read the rest in The Baltimore Banner.



Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.