By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy wants to reform the justice system and the impact it has on young people in the area. Since taking office in January, Braveboy has been developing a plan designed to reduce the number of juveniles that are entering the criminal justice system at a rampant pace.
The first year State’s Attorney officially announced her comprehensive youth justice reform plan, which is focused on keeping young offenders out of courtrooms and jail through treatment, counseling, and mentoring programs. It appears to be an ounce of prevention and a pound of pure strategy designed to help potential offenders get proper psychological care and lead them away from criminal activities, while dealing with the causes that push them toward destructive behaviors. Braveboy promised her office will take a “public health approach” to deal with young offenders.
“Reforming the juvenile justice system is one of my top priorities,” Braveboy said. “Often we see young people coming into the criminal justice system for minor offenses. But when you peel back the layers you find they have faced mental health issues, abuse, homelessness and other problems that have led them down this path.”
“I believe with intervention and other solutions we can make a difference in their lives,” the State’s Attorney added.
Braveboy has renamed and restructured the Youth Justice Reform Unit in her office and is developing partnerships with other County agencies and organizations to assist with establishing this collaborative intervention effort. This unit is also expected to partner with other law enforcement, public health and community organizations that will assess juveniles who may need social support, counseling, tutoring and family intervention. It includes seasoned attorneys and staff who look beyond the crime and seek the cause of the actions of youth offenders.
The partners include Prince George’s County Public Schools, the Office of the Sheriff, Community Public Awareness Council, Key Bridge Center for Conflict Resolution and Jordan Peer Recovery; WIN Family Services and Interdynamics, Inc., and Howard University Law School.
“These partners have pledged to work collectively and bridge the gap to provide services for our youth in the places where they need assistance,” Braveboy said. “The priority for this network of non-profits and community partners will be to chip away at the school to prison pipeline.”
Braveboy’s office, in partnership with Bowie State University’s Criminal Justice Department, also plans to initiate the County’s first Youth Justice Summit in November. This is expected to be an annual event that convenes stakeholders to identify the root causes of behavior that leads juveniles into the criminal justice system. Attendees will also work to develop comprehensive policies and initiatives around youth justice reform.
At its core juvenile offenders would be diverted from courtrooms and detention facilities with proper intervention. The goal is to provide young offenders with diversion programs, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, tutoring, counseling and mentoring. Each case of a juvenile arrest will be reviewed to determine if diversion is appropriate
While this reconstruction will change the way the State’s Attorney’s Office handles juvenile crime cases, Braveboy promises that her office will continue to make sure the safety and security of schools and communities is protected.
“Prince George’s County will be the gold standard in the state and in the country for youth justice reform,” Braveboy said. “We will reduce the school to prison pipeline. We will end the cycle of young people who offend becoming adult offenders.”