By the time you read this, a new Baltimore City State’s Attorney, the most powerful prosecutor in the largest city in Maryland, will have been sworn in. Out is the two-term, internationally known (and federally indicted) “progressive prosecutor” Marilyn Mosby; in is a man who has never claimed to be the latter, Ivan Bates.

This story also appeared in Baltimore Courtwatch

What will be different? 

Will Bates allow his staff to ask that children be kept in cages in adult facilities, as his predecessor did? Of the 3,645 hearings Baltimore Courtwatch observed in 2021 and 2022, 570 hearings were for children charged as adults; 3,070 were for adults (people older than 18 at the time of the incident in question); and five had a defendant whose age could not be determined. For the child defendants, the State asked that they be held without bond (HWOB), a.k.a. “kept in jail,” in 86.3 percent of those 570 hearings, compared to asking for HWOB in 77.3 percent of the adult hearings. In other words, the data show that the State’s Attorney’s Office under Mosby asked for the harshest pre-trial detention available more often for children than they did for adults. Will Bates do the same? Or will he commit to never charging a child as an adult? For, of course, children are not adults. They never can be. That’s why they are two different words describing opposite things.

Will Bates’ SAO deny that staff sometimes simply never show up for hearings? When Mosby was in office, and since November of 2021, when Courtwatch began collecting data on this point, at least 23 hearings had no prosecutor show up at all. Similarly, there were 26 instances since June 2022 when an assistant state’s attorney, unfamiliar with the case, had to fill in at the last minute. In 16 of those 26 instances, the prosecutor, who had no previous knowledge of the case until minutes before speaking, asked that the defendant be kept in jail until trial. (Remember that all court transcripts are available to the public, and these facts can be checked.)

Will Bates’ SAO use a defendant’s previously dropped charges or charges that did not end in a conviction in their arguments for HWOB, like his predecessors did at least 430 times in 2021 and 2022? To be clear, Mosby’s staff used charges that their own office had dropped or charges that did not end in conviction as supporting evidence to keep someone in a cage. And they did this over 400 times, at the very least. Imagine being accused of something by someone who acknowledges they cannot prove it. You deny it and have evidence to show it wasn’t you, but why bother worrying about it when they dropped the accusations? Then they accuse you again, maybe years later, and tell a judge that you’re more likely to have done it because you did that first thing.  

Will Bates and his assistant state’s attorneys continue Mosby’s practice of asking that the defendant be kept in jail until trial in a great majority of the hearings? Overall, in 2021, the SAO asked for HWOB in 77.6 percent of hearings; in 2022, the SAO asked for HWOB in 81.7 percent of hearings. Does keeping people in cages reduce crime and violence in Baltimore City? Simple logic and the data say no. If it did, Baltimore would be Mayberry.

At his inauguration, Bates said, “There was a non-prosecution policy on low-level offenses by the last administration. Effective right now, this moment and second, I recall that policy. Simply put, my office will start holding people accountable for quality of life crimes.” This was a hit with the crowd gathered to kick off Bates’ term. However, prosecuting simple drug possession, sex work, and other low-level offenses is an echo of the failed “broken windows” theory of policing that has disproportionately harmed Black people in Baltimore and every city where it has been implemented. 

What we know is that incarceration does not prevent crime and certainly does not make the world safer. In Baltimore, where the police budget is bigger than that of several vital city services combined, the reliance on police itself makes us less safe. We pour endless resources into demonstrably ineffective policing at the expense of services that would address the actual root causes of violence. Horrific acts of violence occur throughout our city simultaneously with the existence of prisons, and horrific acts of violence occur inside prisons, but somehow those are excluded from the conversation about safety. “Bad people” exist outside of prisons, and “good people” exist within them. Police and corrections officers commit crimes while in uniform, and rarely with consequences. So, what now? Where do we go from here?

How can we reconcile wanting a safe world with knowing that police commit horrific acts of violence and steal the resources we desperately need to address our material conditions and basic needs? How can Bates reconcile building cases based on the words and actions of one of the most notoriously violent, corrupt, and dishonest police departments in the country?

Will Bates finally admit that if we truly care about public safety we must defund the system of prisons, police, and prosecutors, and begin to fund community needs that can address the roots of violence and harm? We must conclude that after decades of claims that police and prosecutors will protect us, all evidence shows that idea has failed. Punishment does not work, even if it feels good to you.

If Bates stays true to his word, the relentless and recurring prosecutions of Keith Davis Jr. will end, and Keith will be free—an outcome that Team Keith, which includes several members of Baltimore Courtwatch, have been fighting for since 2015. Those years of close attention to our criminal justice system have taught us that the whole system is guilty as hell. There are no good police, no good prosecutors, and no good judges in a system built on, by, and for white supremacy. And while we may celebrate Bates’ choice and use of power in Keith’s case, we know that multiple truths can exist at the same time.

Editor’s note: Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates dropped the charges against Keith Davis Jr. on January 13, 2023, a few days after this story was first published.