Maryland’s Juvenile Restoration Act has been in effect for more than a year, and its impact has people talking about additional reforms. The act created a path for people convicted of crimes as minors who have served 20 years or more to file a motion to reduce their sentence.

More than 200 individuals incarcerated in Maryland are eligible for consideration under the JRA.

Brian Saccenti, director of the Decarceration Initiative at the state’s Office of the Public Defender, said as of mid-November, 42 cases have been decided, and the courts granted some relief in 30 of them, with 25 of those resulting in the person being released. Saccenti hopes the success of these first cases will lead to more reforms.

“People who have been released, it hasn’t been that long, but they’ve done very well,” he said. “We’ve had no recidivism, no problems with the law, no problems with probation violations. They’ve done great so far, and we expect that to continue. So their success will be, I hope, a basis to consider similar reforms for other groups of people.”

He believes additional reforms are possible with elderly prisoners who have served long sentences, as well as people convicted of crimes between the ages of 18 and early twenties who have served a significant amount of time.

The act mandates that the court can only reduce a sentence if the person does not threaten public safety. Saccenti said the act is based partly on the idea that most people don’t fully mature until their mid-twenties.

“Eighteen is not a magic number, Saccenti said. It’s not like you turn 18, and suddenly you’re wise and mature and making good decisions. And the science bears that out; the parts of the brain that regulate decision-making, emotions, and risk-taking don’t mature until about the mid-20s.”

The Office of the Public Defender approaches these cases by assembling a legal team with social workers and re-entry specialists to create a release plan to help individuals transition from incarceration to freedom.

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