A third group of Prince George’s County Council candidates participate in a virtual forum on criminal justice reform.
The specific questions from Progressive Maryland’s Reentry Work Group dealt with policies to aid ex-offenders, or returning citizens coming home after serving time in jail or prison.
Four candidates, Edward Burroughs III, Samuel Elira, Sr., Stanford Fraser and Krystal Oriadha, participated in the discussion Friday, March 11 seeking seats to represent council districts 7, 8, 9 and at-large.
As of Friday, the state Board of Elections website shows 16 people have collectively filed to run in the three districts and the two at-large seats on the 11-member board.
Burroughs, who became sworn in on the council Feb. 14 after winning a special election to represent District 8, must run again in the June 28 primary because the term expires for the council member he replaced, Monique Anderson-Walker. So far, four other Democrats have filed paperwork to run for the seat.
Oriadha, of Seat Pleasant, remains the only registered Democrat running for the District 7 seat. Council member Rodney Streeter of Hillcrest hasn’t officially filed documentation and the deadline closes Tuesday, March 22.
Gary Falls, a registered Republican from Oxon Hill, represents the only registered Republican in the District 7 race.
Council member Sydney Harrison of Upper Marlboro represents the area of the jurisdiction in District 9 known as “South County.” None of the three candidates seeking election in District 9 attended the forum
Elira and Fraser, both attorneys, represent two of the six candidates running for the at-large seats currently held by council chair Calvin Hawkins II and Mel Franklin.
The work group conducted four previous forums that included candidates running for Maryland lieutenant governor, county executive, state’s attorney, county sheriff and County Council Districts 1 through 6. Once again, they asked the candidates questions like whether they would mandate the county to collect data on a person while in jail or prison and upon their release.
All four agreed privacy rights should be protected but also acknowledged data helps in making better policy decisions.
“The data is helpful because if someone is reentering our society, we give them quality training and skills and job placement and they’re less likely to reoffend,” Burroughs said. “That data really helps the entire community [and] is very important to have because different people need to see it from different scopes and points of view.”
Fraser, who works as a public defender in the county, said he would sponsor legislation to fund unarmed public health responders to respond to nonviolent calls answered by 9-1-1 operators. He said it would mirror a program in Denver called “Star” which utilizes mental health professionals and paramedics to handle calls versus police officers.
“In a way, it can save the county money. Economics shouldn’t be the motivating factor but for some people it is,” he said. “For me, it’s the moral necessity.”
Elira, the founding partner of his own law firm in Bowie, supports a policy to decriminalize and decrease penalties for nonviolent offenses including marijuana charges and petty theft as a way to end mass incarceration.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t punish individuals but there are alternatives like treatment,” he said. “That would do a great deal in ending the mass incarceration issue that currently exists.”
The forum allowed people listening to the discussion to ask the candidates questions. One came from William Nuckols who asked for their thoughts on those candidates who did not appear.
“Some people don’t want to have to face questions about certain issues,” said Oriadha, a co-founder of the activist group, PG Change Makers. “That should speak volumes when people don’t show up to spaces like this because that shows they don’t want to be held accountable on the record.”
The remaining forums, held on Tuesdays and Fridays until March 25, will feature candidates representing Prince George’s County running for state Senate and the House of Delegates.