Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy presented the State of Justice symposium Tuesday, an outing her office labeled as the first time an elected state’s attorney from the jurisdiction addressed residents with goals toward criminal justice reform.
For slightly more than 40 minutes, Braveboy touted the first 273 days of her administration, noting that her office reviewed 25,000 criminal cases, created a conviction- and sentencing-integrity unit and will encourage state lawmakers to make strangulation a first-degree felony.
But what received rousing applause was Braveboy’s announcement that, as of Oct. 1, her office will no longer request cash bail as a condition of release before trial for those arrested for certain offenses. Criminal justice advocates have said it keeps poor people in jail because they simply cannot afford to pay for bail.
“We hope that the steps we are taking will serve as an example to other decision-makers that there are other alternatives,” she said at The Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park. “No one who is not a threat or danger to our community should be in jail pre-trial.”
Maryland implemented bail reform two years ago for judges to use cash bail as a last resort.
A June 2018 report by Progressive Maryland and Color of Change showed the practice did decrease in Prince George’s from nearly 50 percent between June 2016 and June 2017 to 40 percent between July 2017 and May 2018.
During that same time frame, no-bail status imposed in court increased from 11 percent to 14 percent.
“Replacing cash bail with no bail holds simply perpetuates many of the problems in the cash bail system,” the report said. “People are kept away from their jobs, families, and loved ones, all of the factors that have criminogenic effects.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) said he visited Braveboy in her office and realized she plans to seek ways to rehabilitate people so they can become better citizens.
“It was obvious to me that Aisha was committed to making the state of justice in Prince George’s County and our state better,” he said. “We need to make sure we don’t people in cages who are not dangerous to others. We need to believe in rehabilitation, not in retribution.”
One of Braveboy’s early initiatives that she announced in July seeks to decrease the number of at-risk youth who enter the criminal justice system.
Instead of a teenager being processed and tried in juvenile court, the “family approach” endeavor will allow some teens to receive mental health, social or other services that may be needed based on a person’s records and needs. Her office will lead the effort with the help of the county’s public school system, sheriff’s office and nonprofit organizations.
The county will host its first Juvenile Justice Summit at Bowie State University in November for youth and adults to identify causes of behavior. In addition, the forum could provide recommendations on state legislation toward criminal justice reform.
Braveboy also presented at least a dozen awards to those who’ve helped toward criminal justice reform such as Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro, who chairs the state’s Legislative Black Caucus.
Then Braveboy joined eight others on a panel, with the first question coming from moderator Harold Fisher of WHUR-FM (96.3): “How do you define justice in 2019?”
Kristi O’Malley, principal deputy chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland’s Southern Division, said “the important thing is to do the right thing every day. That’s justice for me.”
Keith Lotridge, the district public defender for Prince George’s, offered a different perspective.
“It’s almost an impossible question to answer. You cannot have justice without looking at the totality of the individual,” he said. “My definition of justice: I haven’t seen it yet.”