Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy announced a plan Wednesday that seeks to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline, but with some help.
Braveboy, who was elected to office last year, said she will depend on resources from the public school system, sheriff’s office and nonprofit organizations to support a youth justice reform plan.
“I feel really strong about this because we cannot institutionalize our young people,” she said at the county administration building in Upper Marlboro. “Once they get in a system, mentally they think of themselves as part of the system. What we want young people to know is the community cares about them.”
Although community interventions and diversion programs aren’t new, Braveboy described the initiative led by the state’s attorney’s office to help at-risk youth as a “family approach.”
Instead of some youths being processed and tried in juvenile court for certain offenses, the person’s records will be reviewed to determine if mental health, social or other services are warranted.
For instance, Key Bridge Foundation in Largo will provide mediation sessions to handle certain conflicts.
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, possibly provide recommendations on state legislation toward criminal justice reform.
Community Public Awareness Council (C-PAC) of Kettering will mentor youth.
The group helped Imani Williams, 16, to change from a troubled, verbally abusive teenager to an honor-roll student at Friendly High School. When this upcoming school year starts Sept. 3, the senior will serve on the school’s peer mentoring group to assist incoming freshmen.
“I’ll tell them do the right and don’t do the things I did,” she said while standing beside her mother and grandmother. “Ninth-grade year is not the year to play around. Stay out of trouble. Keep your grades up. Study and do your homework. Stay away from the bad crowd.”
Juveniles assessed and charged with serious offenses such as gun possession and assault would still be processed.
Prince George’s schools CEO Monica Goldson said the focus will not only push for a decrease in the suspension rate, but also call on school resource and police officers to become mentors.
According to the Maryland Department of Education, the county recorded the state’s seventh-highest percentage of public school students suspended or expelled during the 2017-18 school year, at 6.3 percent. The year prior, the county had the same percentage and ranked fifth in the state.
“Relationships help to breed trust and accountability,” Goldson said. “It allows us to have our students come to them for assistance and support. The only way we can do that is to make sure we train and retrain our police officers, our investigative counselors and security assistants to make sure they become those kinds of mentors our children need.”
Claudette Harris of Cheverly, whose 15-year-old son participated in the C-PAC program for a year, said police officers must be retrained to deal with students in a different way.
“Some police officers are good with the kids when they are in the school, but some just have that police mentality to walk up to them and lock them up,” she said. “It will make things a lot better.”