Young offenders sentenced to Prince George’s Co. pilot program for education, service

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Calvin Johnson, 21, of Landover has lived on the streets most of his life. He was convicted of felony armed robbery when he was just 12 years old. When he was recently charged with a felony drug offense and found himself homeless, he began to lose hope for his future.

“I didn’t really feel like I had too much to live for because going through my trials and tribulations, I didn’t have it as sweet as most people,” he said.

Tuesday, Davis pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in front of a judge.

But instead of jail time, Davis and three other young men knew they were agreeing to be sentenced into the Back on Track program.

“That’s all I really needed was an opportunity and that extra push that everybody needs sometimes when, you know, they’re on the wrong path,” said 21-year-old Richard Ellington, who pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana.

These young men are the first group sentenced to a pilot program in Prince George’s County to reduce recidivism by investing in first-time offenders. They are getting a second chance.

Ellington was in community college when he was arrested.

“I’d be locked up. My life would be in shambles,” Ellington said when asked how his life would be different if not for the opportunity to join the program.

The Back on Track pilot program is based off another successful program in San Francisco, and requires the offenders to plead guilty, attend Prince George’s Community College and complete consistent community service. They also are required to have scheduled drug tests.

“We’ll be following them and making sure they are successful,” said State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks standing with program partners, Catholic Charities and PGCC.

If the offenders complete the program, they will be certified to work, have completed a financial literacy course and will be able to rejoin society without a record. If they don’t complete the program, they’ll serve the maximum time for their offense.

“The importance of second chances I don’t think can be understated … . Recidivism is what this program is aimed at stopping,” she said.

Alsobrooks said that it costs $5,000 to invest in rehabilitating the offenders versus approximately $47,000 to house them in a state detention center for a year.

The problem solving court is the first of its kind in Maryland, Alsobrooks said. Twenty to 30 participants will be accepted during the program’s first year and must be first-time offenders, ages 18 to 26 with no prior felonies.

“When we invest in people and we help them to become productive, the whole community benefits from it,” she said.

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