You cannot decouple crime from its link to economics. With Aim to B’More, Baltimore City’s state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby is looking to provide a pathway out of the criminal justice system for first-time, non-violent drug offenders.
Aim to B’More is a diversionary program that targets first-time, non-violent offenders and offers them a chance at a guaranteed job and expungement of their record if they successfully complete the program. A defendant deemed eligible for the program, and who agrees to its terms, will have to serve 150 hours of community service, after which she will enter a job and life skills program that will culminate in a job with long-term potential, something that separates this program from others offered to persons who have had contact with the criminal justice system, says Mosby.
“The uniqueness of this program is that we have partners – we’ve partnered [via] public-private partnership – they understand the importance of trying to get to the structural and systemic issues around why crime takes place and it comes down to economics. A lot of these young people don’t have very much to do, they don’t have a job. But at the end of the day, this program will allow them to not only have a job, but a career,” said Mosby in an interview with the AFRO.
While there is no age limit for Aim to B’More – which was modeled after Kamala Harris’s ‘Back on Track’ program in Los Angeles, California – Mosby says most first-time, nonviolent felony drug offenders fall within the ages of 18- 24. The inaugural class of participants in the program, numbering seven when we spoke, fell between the ages of 19-22.
For Deborah Spector, deputy director of crime control and prevention for the Baltimore City state’s attorney’s office, and the person who oversees Aim to B’More, the program has the potential to prevent an initial contact with the criminal justice system from becoming a cycle of contacts.
“I think that the beauty of the program is that we are reaching out and changing the course of a person who’s having their first interaction with the criminal justice system, and we are seeking to make that their last interaction, and move the direction in a positive way and change the course of their lives so that they end up being productive members of society, instead of a person who continues to have contacts with the criminal justice system,” said Spector.
Spector spent 18 years serving as a public defender before joining Mosby’s administration (there was a three-month break in between, said Spector), and saw firsthand the consequences for persons who have had contact with the criminal justice system but were then afforded few resources as an alternative to the streets.
“Ultimately, that person with their first possession with intent to distribute, or distribution charge, often went back to that distribution kind of crime, and this information in [Aim to B’More] changes [that pattern], it opens all new doors,” said Spector.
Aim to B’More is currently in a pilot stage, and the state’s attorney’s office is tracking metrics in order to determine potential areas of strength or weakness, as well as overall success, measured principally in terms of Aim to B’More’s impact on recidivism. In implementing the program, the state’s attorney’s office has partnered with the Center for Urban Families and its STRIVE Baltimore workforce development program, which already had partners like Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Lifebridge Health in place and in a position to provide jobs to successful participants (some employers require the successful completion of an unpaid internship prior to receiving a job offer).
If Aim to B’More proves successful, Mosby hopes that other private sector business partners will come forward to sign-on to the program and help provide a viable alternative to street economies for young Baltimoreans.
“When we have a small number of individuals, and most of the time it’s young people, who don’t have economic opportunities the result is crime. That’s bad for everybody – a small number of individuals defining the perception of our city. The business community needs to understand that everybody has a stake in the outcome and the perception of our city, and so, if the issue is really systemic and about economics, there are ways for the business community to be able to assist,” said Mosby.