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The Power of Prosecutors

Picture of Dayvon Love

Dayvon Love

Director of Public Policy
Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle

On this last day of the 2024 Maryland General Assembly we think it’s important to give our supporters some important information about the forces that shape the political landscape in Annapolis. 

As many of you know, our major focus was defending the progress that Maryland made over the past couple of years on juvenile justice reform. Maryland is among the worst states in the US regarding the violation of the human rights of children. Even though Maryland is a Democratic Party stronghold, the majority of the children in Maryland are non-white, which would explain why a state that claims to be so progressive can be so oppressive in its policies toward Black youth.

Fox 45 and Sinclair Broadcasting have been engaged in a propaganda campaign to demonize Black youth, and advocate for repealing the policies that were targeted at keeping youth away from the juvenile justice system. While we were able to protect the Child Interrogation Protection Act (which requires a parent be notified and consultation with an attorney prior to a young person being subject to a custodial interrogation), the legislature caved to right wing pressure to roll back elements of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act that sought to limit children’s contact with the juvenile justice system. 

This political environment does not just impact juvenile justice issues, it impacts other areas of criminal justice policy. Senator Jill P. Carter, formerly incarcerated people, the ACLU of MD, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender and many other organizations have been fighting to pass the Second Look Act (SB 123). This bill would allow people who have served 20 years of their sentence to have a judge review the circumstances of their case and/or their work toward rehabilitation to see if they deserve to have their sentences modified. The legislation  is a recognition that Black people are tracked into the criminal justice system and sentenced more harshly than our white counterparts. This bill also allows for a mechanism to address the harm that is done to Black people by this system. One of the biggest sources of opposition to this bill are prosecutors.

In an environment shaped largely by the propaganda of Sinclair Broadcasting and other institutions like it, prosecutors gravitate to a politics that is based on its capacity to be tough on crime. To these folks, criminal justice reform is inherently at odds with public safety. In Annapolis, they are reliable opposition to efforts to mitigate the harm done to Black people by the criminal justice system. Their opposition is the main reason that SB 123 has been so difficult to move. In a piece I wrote for Maryland Matters in 2021, I was critical of House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Luke Clippinger, for his opposition to the Child Interrogation Protection Act. I pointed out that in his day job, he is a prosecutor for Anne Arundel County, of which their district attorney had a competitive general election with a Republican candidate in the last election cycle. This means that the politics of the approach of that prosecutor is more conservative on criminal justice issues. 

What does it say about Maryland that one of the major gatekeepers of criminal justice policy in Maryland is someone who, by the nature of his profession and political context, is a prosecutor? His peers are on the record as opponents to efforts like SB 123 and rolling back progress made on juvenile justice policy. If we are going to take seriously the work of addressing ourselves to the continued work of reversing the harm that is being done to Black people in Maryland by the criminal justice system, we must directly address whether it is even appropriate for chairman Clippinger to serve in his capacity as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

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