Former NAACP President Ben Jealous summarized that a financial investment in education would decrease money toward mass incarceration.
Jealous was the main speaker on a discussion about criminal justice reform hosted by Progressive Maryland on criminal justice reform not only in Prince George’s County, but also the state of Maryland.
“On this issue as progressives, let us have hope. Let us be our sister’s keeper, our brother’s keeper,” he said Saturday at ATU Local 689 headquarters in Forestville. “Let us organize each of us as a self-interest in this.”
After an unsuccessful bid last year for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Jealous, who hasn’t decided whether to run for mayor of Baltimore City, presented a message similar to the one from his previous campaign: love, optimism and perseverance will make a community better.
In terms of criminal justice, a Vera Institute of Justice report released in April showed Maryland’s prison population decreased last year to 17,815, or 1.7 percent. It marked the first time in nearly three decades that figure dipped below 18,000.
Although the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services shows the year-end population of 2018 at nearly 19,000, the Vera Institute of New York City calculated its data based on those incarcerated from Maryland and doesn’t include people from other states held in Maryland’s state prisons.
The institute received prison population numbers from the state and federal Bureau of Prisons, according to the report.
On Saturday, some people in attendance faced or continue to struggle with the inadequacies of the criminal justice system.
Joe Perez and Sonya L. Zollicoffer are engaged in an ongoing lawsuit with current and former county police officers against the police department for alleged discrimination against Black and Latino officers and residents.
Kema Harris’s son, Kevin Sneed, was charged with attempting to kill a police officer during a traffic stop when his vehicle slowly moved, causing the officer to jump through the driver’s side window in fear that Sneed had a gun.
After a two-year legal battle, a grand jury cleared Sneed in May of all charges.
Some family members must communicate with loved ones who remain in jail or prison, such as Kim Carter of Upper Marlboro.
Carter said her nephew, Justin Taylor, has served 16 years of a 30-year sentence in Virginia “for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Carter, a native of New York City’s Bronx borough, said Taylor set up a drug deal for a person who eventually shot and killed someone. Although police couldn’t find the shooter, Carter said police charged Taylor, now 36, with murder.
“He wasn’t even there when the shooting occurred,” she said. “My children don’t even know my nephew. Criminal justice reform is a must. It needs to be done because innocent people are behind bars.”
Jealous and others stressed Saturday that the majority of those incarcerated are Black. Maryland’s Department of Corrections noted earlier this year more than 70 of its prisoners are Black.
Angum Check, 21, said mass incarceration remains “a national crisis.”
“We have the largest prison population amongst any developed country in the world,” said Check, the lead Prince George’s County organizer for Progressive Maryland. “We see there are deeply rooted institutional disparities of how people are treated based on race, based on wealth. It must change.”
In Prince George’s, at least 100 people in attendance received a pledge card to end mass incarceration and ensure the cards are received by State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy during her “State of the Justice” address Tuesday in College Park. The card outlines a request for Braveboy to conduct the following:
• End cash bail.
• Decriminalize sex work.
• Divest from the school-to-prison pipeline and invest to treat children as children.
• Stop prosecuting petty crimes and minor offenses.
• Stop deportations and cooperating with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Jealous praised Braveboy when she worked as a state delegate to help abolish the death penalty in Maryland in 2013.
“We can work with her,” he said. “The focus with her should be, how do we push her? How do we build a movement that gives her no choice to rise to her best angel and be the justice leader that we need? Let’s go out there and win justice for our communities.”