By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy continues trying to reform the justice system. While she remains vigilant in prosecuting heinous offenses, she hasn’t given up reforming juveniles who have been sentenced to life, by providing opportunities for reentry into society to those who qualify for a second chance.
Just under 24 months into her job, Braveboy has aggressively pursued innovative ways of preparing inmates for reentry into society. In her second year, the State’s Attorney finds herself developing and implementing reforms that are serving as models for other jurisdictions such as Baltimore, D.C. and throughout the state.
The Emerging Adult Program offers young offenders who have matured behind bars a form of structured, supervised parole that prepares them for the opportunity to ease into freedom. Most of the offenders were convicted as teenagers between 18 and 26 years old. Many have served as much as 20 years of their sentences and spent their formative adult years behind bars.
“These offenders have literally grown up and matured while being incarcerated,” Braveboy told the AFRO. “People have grown to an age where they are less likely to become offenders again.”
Braveboy has fallen back on her experience working at Children’s National Hospital to take a clinical approach to socially rehabilitate young offenders who have been sentenced. There is a cognitive strategy that factors scientific proof of brain maturity leading to criminal behavior. She has been an advocate for understanding the roots of adolescent crime activity, which can be traced to childhood trauma.
While some of the crimes were so heinous the offenders needed to be distanced from society, the individual decision making process improves as they get older while being incarcerated.
“We know there is a correlation between slower adolescent brain development and personal trauma,” Braveboy said. “You have people being warehoused for major crimes and this program helps to reduce mass incarceration with supervised rehabilitation before they are incorporated back into society.”
Beyond the constructive rehabilitation of a previous offender, the program also saves the penal system time and money. The cost of housing an inmate has risen to over $44,000 annually, which is offset by a positive re-entry to society, thus creating a taxpayer who becomes a positive contributor to the community.
Braveboy has worked within the confines of the State’s justice system to move this initiative forward. She argued successfully to convince judges that rehabilitation is a possibility if offenders display remorseful behavior and remain committed to a regimen that includes mentorship, education and life-skills development, that person may qualify for a commuted sentence. Since there is more teenage cognitive brain development data now available than when most were previously sentenced, in some cases a second chance for a semblance of clemency may be warranted.
“We believe this will reduce the amount of recidivism and take a great burden off the taxpayers as well,” Braveboy said.
Since taking office in 2018, Braveboy has established the conviction and sentencing unit, which has taken a second look at cases that have thrown away the key on the lives of youth offenders. Her efforts have led to judges reevaluating the sentences in some cases and the victims’ families being consulted in these “re-looks,” along with other factors that go into the decision for release. To this point, nine offender’s convictions have been “reevaluated’ for some form of state parole, probation or resentencing.
D.C. is reportedly exploring options where young offenders can have their life sentences reduced after serving 15 years.