Effective October 1, 2021, the Juvenile Restoration Act permits people who have served at least 20 years of a sentence for a crime that occurred when they were under the age of 18 to seek a sentence reduction. Underlying the law is a greater understanding of adolescent brain development, the diminished culpability of youth coupled with the increased capacity for rehabilitation, the low recidivism rates of individuals who commit serious crimes as adolescents, and the need to redress severe racial disparities among Maryland’s prison population. Maryland data compiled in 2019 confirmed that Black children are substantially more likely to be charged as adults than their white counterparts, and Black individuals make up the vast majority of people serving sentences of more than 10 years.
Shortly after the Juvenile Restoration Act’s passage, OPD established the Decarceration Initiative to coordinate representation of indigent people eligible to seek a sentence reduction under the Act. The Decarceration Initiative has assembled a collaborative team of attorneys, social workers, re-entry specialists, and other experts to support the release of individuals who have spent their entire adult life behind bars. In close collaboration with their clients, the multidisciplinary legal teams develop release plans connecting clients with community partners that support their transition from incarceration to freedom.
A true collaborative undertaking, the Initiative has received support from and collaborated with the APDM, Open Society Foundations, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, the Family Support Network, the University of Baltimore School of Law, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and the American University Washington College of Law. To increase its bandwidth, OPD and its aforementioned partners recruited, trained, and supported dozens of pro bono attorneys and teamed up with law school clinics to provide representation to eligible individuals.
APDM works behind the scenes to leverage resources to help increase the size and scale of the Decarceration Initiative's capacity and impact.
Most recently, APDM secured a multi-year grant from Vital Projects Fund, Inc. to hire an additional attorney to provide direct client services, compile and analyze data about the law’s implementation and impact, and share quantitative and qualitative measures with community partners and other stakeholders to promote further reforms that reduce the continued incarceration of individuals serving lengthy sentences.
Click here to learn more about the Decarceration Initiative's important work and ways to get involved.