Since the passage of the JRA bill, the SAO has supported the release of 15 individuals
Baltimore, Md. (September 30, 2022) - Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary since the Juvenile Restoration Act (JRA) went into effect, a bill that ends life sentences without parole for juveniles and allows the courts to reconsider the sentence of juveniles who have spent a minimum of 20 years in prison while demonstrating that they are no longer a danger to the public.
"Prosecutors have historically played a role and contributed to the epidemic of mass incarceration and racial inequity in this country by making excessive sentence recommendations and we have a responsibility to right that wrong. As the lead prosecutor in Baltimore City, our office should have the authority, autonomy and discretion to review and revise sentences that are incompatible with current practices, “testified State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby in 2021. "The status quo is neither just nor sustainable. The JRA does not allow for guaranteed release of these offenders. Rather, it creates a careful process for second chances, where public safety is the paramount deciding factor. We must recognize the mistakes of the past and modernize our approach to incarcerated individuals, particularly those sentenced as juveniles."
Since the JRA went into effect:
- 23 JRA hearings have been held.
- The SAO supported release in 15 cases; supported a reduction of sentence (but not release) in 2 cases; and opposed any reduction in 6 cases.
- The courts have reduced sentences that resulted in release in 14 cases; reduced sentences (that did not result in immediate release) in 4 cases, and denied any reduction in 4 cases. The decision in one case is still pending.
- The youngest released individual was 15 years old at the time of the offense and the oldest was 17.
- Every single JRA defendant so far has been a Black male.
- 21 of the cases are homicides and one was a sex offense.
- Of the people released, the longest amount of time served was 41 years (before release); the shortest amount of time served was 22 years. The average amount of time served is 33 years.
- Of the people released, the oldest was 56 years old; the youngest was 41 years old. The average age at the time of release is 50 years old.
- To date 0% of the releases have recidivated, meaning none have committed another offense after re-entering society.
The JRA legislative victory was the culmination of two years of advocacy, including the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office (SAO) and local partners. The SAO worked with legislators, UMD Attorneys, and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth to advocate for this vital piece of legislation, which brings Maryland in line with 24 other states.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that childhood brain development should be taken into account when sentencing juvenile offenders, and ruled it unconstitutional to sentence minors to death or mandatory life without parole sentences.
SAO Sentencing Review Unit (SRU) chief, Becky Feldman, also testified in favor of the legislation, as someone who sees firsthand the rehabilitation and unjustified lengthy sentencing of juveniles on a daily basis.
"We are in the midst of a public reckoning with racial justice and mass incarceration in our nation, and also in Maryland. We need to deal with painful truth that we choose incarceration over rehabilitation, and we incarcerate people for much too long. This can change with the JRA’s passage," said ASA Feldman.
Prior to vacating the conviction of Adnan Syed, who was found guilty as a juvenile for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and sentenced to Life in prison plus 30 years, the SAO was reviewing Mr. Syed's case as a potential JRA recommendation. Once the SAO uncovered Brady violations and new evidence, it became apparent that a recommendation to vacate and seek a new trial would be more appropriate.