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Prince George’s County’s new prosecutor, Democrat Aisha Braveboy, has jumped into the state’s attorney’s office with both feet, seizing the reins of the county’s criminal justice agenda by focusing on reform and engaging in intensive community outreach.
Her efforts serve a second purpose as well — building the Braveboy brand.
Her out-front style was on full display last month, when she convened the county’s first “State of Justice Address and Symposium.”
Held beneath glittering chandeliers in the main ballroom of the newish Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park, the event drew luminaries from politics, law enforcement and advocacy, including U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.); Prince George’s County NAACP President Bob Ross; Kristi O’Malley, deputy chief in the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland; and George Escobar, chief of programs and services at CASA, the immigrants’ rights organization.
In the back of the hall, representatives from various government agencies and non-profit groups staffed tables and passed out information. Each table featured a clear plastic stand with a flier that was dominated by a photo of Braveboy. (Attendees also received a glossy eight-page “State of Justice Report” with four additional photos of her.)
The evening began with a video that focused on Braveboy’s efforts to put her stamp on the prosecutor’s office and the criminal justice issues facing the county.
At the end of the film, the narrator commanded the audience to “please rise” — as Braveboy came out from backstage — an unusual touch for a local official, to be sure.
Her remarks, to an audience of about 300 people, mostly insiders, focused on her actions since taking office, the goals she has set for the remainder of her term and her push for additional resources.
Significantly, she unveiled a new policy regarding bail. Starting this month, her office will not recommend cash bail for defendants judged not to be a danger to the community or a flight risk.
“I do not believe in the cash bail system,” Braveboy said.
Reform of the bail system is a top priority for progressive activists in Maryland and beyond — and several members of the audience stood to cheer her remarks.
“We have a pretty robust pretrial services system, and we are going to recommend that we utilize pretrial services as an alternative to cash bond,” Braveboy said in a follow-up interview last week.
In the same interview, Braveboy talked about some of the other steps she has taken to promote fairness and improve the functioning of her office since taking over from Angela B. Alsobrooks, a Democrat who now serves as county executive:
- Working with police investigators, the medical examiner’s office and others, the state’s attorney’s office has been able to reduce the amount of time it takes to pursue vehicular manslaughter cases. “If we partner with those that are part of the process, we are able to make decisions and get justice for people a lot quicker, and that’s really important for us,” she said.
- Braveboy has established a Conviction and Integrity Unit to look at cases where “defendants believe that they were innocent and they want to prove their innocence.” The unit just received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and is working with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the Howard University School of Law and others.
- Her office is reviewing cases in which juveniles were sentenced to life in prison and have served 30 years or more in state prison. “We have several cases [in which] juvenile lifers are looking for some type of reconsideration,” she said.
- The state’s attorney’s office is now working with Courtney’s House, the Family Justice Center, Catholic Charities, the University of Maryland and others to create a diversion program for commercial sex workers who are charged with prostitution. Many are victims of human trafficking, Braveboy said, and the prosecutor believes it’s possible to come up with a “more appropriate setting” than the courts for those offenses.
Braveboy‘s efforts to create and steer a conversation on criminal justice reform are appreciated by activists in the state’s largest majority-African American subdivision.
“I think that what she’s doing is very progressive, with respect to the reform of our justice system,” said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, a longtime union leader and Democratic activist.
“I have an African American son, and our criminal justice system is not set up for him to have a fair shake,” she added. “Black people are being treated horribly.”
Braveboy’s policy moves and her active public relations operation (her many press releases are routinely headlined #BraveJustice), are starting to draw attention in the Democratic stronghold.
They are also good politics, analysts say.
While Alsobrooks is still getting settled in her new job, there is already speculation about her entering the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary. That would create an opening for Braveboy in the race for county executive.
Alsobrooks has said she needs to prove herself before giving any thoughts about a promotion, but that hasn’t stopped some of her many supporters from daydreaming about a gubernatorial bid in three years, when term-limited incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan will be nearing the end of his run.
“There is a buzz out there that [Alsobrooks] is a viable option to be considered for governor,” said Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Harrington, a former state senator and County Council member.
Braveboy’s sprint from the starting gate represents savvy pre-positioning that could be beneficial if Alsobrooks pulls the trigger on a statewide bid, Harrington added: “There is clearly is a lot of community outreach.”
Braveboy, 45, a product of Prince George’s County Public Schools, the University of Maryland and Howard University Law School, has always been a young woman in a hurry. She was elected to the House of Delegates in 2006 at the age of 32 — filling the seat of Anthony G. Brown (D), a Democrat who had moved up to become lieutenant governor.
During her eight years in Annapolis, Braveboy worked on legislation to combat domestic violence, curb mass incarceration and defend homeowners from unscrupulous lenders. She also headed the Legislative Black Caucus.
In 2014, Braveboy made an ill-fated run for state attorney general, finishing third in the three-way Democratic primary with 20% of the vote. But she barely broke stride, becoming ubiquitous at Prince George’s churches and community events, following the model of two other state’s attorneys who later became county executive, Alsobrooks and Jack B. Johnson.
Braveboy romped in the three-way Democratic primary for state’s attorney last year, taking 63 percent of the vote. Then-state Sen. Victor Ramirez, another Democrat, finished a distant second with 27%.
Braveboy isn’t the only official eyeing a potential 2022 county executive bid if there is a vacancy, Harrington said, noting that Democratic County Councilman Mel Franklin has also been visible of late.
“People want to put their name out there in case Angela does decide to go after this,” he said.
The former legislator thinks candidates who’ve already won a countywide race will be at an enormous advantage if Alsobrooks moves on after just one term.
“It’s so hard to get your name out there if you’re in a single-member district,” he said.
Even those who back Braveboy’s early actions acknowledge there is a not-so-subtle undercurrent to her high-profile style, but they appreciate the work she is taking on.
“Is it Aisha Braveboy building a brand? Probably,” said Dudley.
“But it’s time that we had this conversation in real time — here and in Baltimore. So I’m not mad at her for taking it to the streets, so to speak, because for people to understand the reform, she has to be engaged.”
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.