By Lyna Bentahar
COLLEGE PARK – State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy announced that her office would no longer request cash bail as part of her first State of Justice Symposium on Sept. 10 in the Hotel at the University of Maryland.
The new protocol, which will go into effect Oct. 1, would not completely end bail in the county, Braveboy said. She hoped the change would serve as an example that thereare alternatives to the bail system.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, as of this year, over 540,000 people are in pretrial detention, jailed without conviction or sentence. 85% of those are sitting in local jails.
“No one that is not a threat or danger to our community should go to jail pretrial,” she said.
Color of Change, a racial justice advocacy nonprofit, called on Braveboy before the symposium to refrain from taking cash bail and to work with state legislators to eliminate it statewide.
“Braveboy is headed in the right direction, but we are still waiting for promises to materialize into something real for the residents of the county,” the organization’s senior director, Scott Roberts, said in a statement following the symposium.
After the symposium, Color of Change launched an online petition, calling on Braveboy’s office to no longer prosecute marijuana possession and other “broken window” offenses, not to comply with ICE officials, make case-level data publicly available and document her new policy not to request cash bail.
According to Color of Change, Black people make up 65% of the county, but 80% of those awaiting trial in jail.
“The stakes are high for Black communities when it comes to bail reform,” Roberts said.
The announcement came nearly two months after the state’s attorney unveiled her youth justice reform plan, part of an effort against the school-to-prison pipeline in the county. The plan intercepts charges of young criminals to help them address the problems that led them to crime and keep them out of the system.
The event featured a panel to discuss criminal justice reform and the overall state of the justice system in the county and the country. Barbara Arnwine, founder and president of the Transformative Justice Coalition in Washington D.C., and one of the panelists at the symposium, said justice was “nothing short of destroying the school-to-prison pipeline.”
The state’s attorney talked about homelessness, substance abuse, undereducation, developmental disabilities, violence and gang life as challenges that impact the county which become factors that drive people to crime or lead them to prison.
Braveboy asserted that her office holds individuals accountable for their actions, but “that alone won’t keep our community safe.”
The state’s attorney also addressed issues within her office. According to Braveboy, the state’s attorney’s office in Prince George’s County holds the second largest caseload in Maryland, second only to Baltimore, and with half the staff. In response, the state’s attorney was looking to the state for more funding and was able to secure raises for her staff.
Braveboy’s weaknesses as a state’s attorney, as she defined them during the symposium, were with regards to drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter. The two were areas “that weren’t necessarily on (her) radar” when she first took office.
A drunk driver killed five children and another driver in Bowie this April. The driver agreed to turn herself in and was held on $100,000 bond. That same month, Braveboy launched an awareness campaign to help reduce drunk and drugged driving in the county.
“If we don’t begin to address the underlying issues in our community, we will find ourselves continuing to try to fix people once they come into contact with the system,” Braveboy said. “And for some, it will be too late.”
Keith Lotridge, the district public defender, called for a holistic justice system, in which courts judged people not for one act, but for the challenges and difficulties of their lives that brought them to crime. Major James McCreary, commander of the county’s internal affairs, similarly wanted to “humanize the process.”
“When you have interactions with the criminal justice system, regardless of what you’re being accused of, everyone deserves to be treated fairly,” said McCreary. “Respect is a big thing with young people. When you treat them with respect, it goes a long way.”
The panel, moderated by journalist and WHUC radio talk show host Harold Fisher, went further to address methods and principles of justice that should be in the county as well as the United States. Fisher asked how the panelists would define justice in 2019. For Lotridge, the answer was simple.
“I haven’t seen it yet.”