Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown and Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue on Wednesday said the two are partnering to address mass incarceration, which they described as a crisis in the state that disproportionately affects Black people and is the worst in the United States.
The Maryland Equitable Justice Collaborative is an advocacy partnership between the attorney general and public defender that will elevate the voices of marginalized communities and bring a renewed focus to developing and implementing criminal justice reform. People who are involved in the group include representatives from government, academia and policy, advocacy and community organizations.
The goal is to develop a comprehensive plan for reform and deliver recommendations by 2025. The collaborative is scheduled to hold a public forum on Nov. 6 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore.
Brown and Dartigue made the announcement at Bowie State University, a historically Black university in Prince George’s County, and the collaborative then held its organizational meeting. According to a 2019 policy brief from the Justice Policy Institute, a national nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that offers solutions to problems in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, Maryland leads the United States in incarcerating young Black men.
“We understand the assignment we are given,” said Dartigue, who noted that both she and the attorney general are the first people of color to hold their respective positions. “We are at a crucial point in history and must take firm hold of the opportunity. We are the solution to the problem of mass incarceration.”
Brown said he believes the partnership will be the “most impactful initiative” in his almost 25 years of public service in Maryland. He described the partnership as “significant, if not historic.”
He said he thinks that many people do not know how “severe and deep” the crisis of mass incarceration runs in Maryland. Though Black people make up about 30% of the state population, he said, they comprise approximately 71% of the prison population.
The collaborative, he said, will have committees and look at existing laws, practices and policies. That’s in addition to examining policing and reentry. Brown said solutions could take the form of everything from recommended legislation to education.
At the same time, Brown said people who commit violent crimes “will be held accountable, no matter the color of your skin.” But he said “we are not going to investigate and prosecute our way to safer neighborhoods.”
“We will impact lives. We will change trajectories for families and generations to come,” Brown said. “And we will end the seemingly nonstop, unrelenting mass incarceration of Black men and women in Maryland.”
The Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. Center for Education, Justice, and Ethics at the University of Maryland and the Institute for Restorative Justice and Practices at Bowie State University are also partners in the collaborative.
Retired U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr., director of the Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. Center, described the racial disparities in the prison population as unacceptable and stated he was glad to be part of the partnership.
Meanwhile, Charles Adams, founding executive director of the Institute for Restorative Justice and Practices, said change is “going to take all of us.”
“We cannot just have a press conference and move on. We can’t just take a photo op,” Adams said. “It’s rooted in our past but does not have to be our future.”