Next week, Baltimore is expected to open the Office of African American Male Engagement to reduce the Black male incarceration rate, at a time when the city’s homicide rate is sky high–setting a record per capita rate in 2017. This program will hopefully save lives and end the cycle of incarceration.
“We want to save lives. The reason the office is important is because too many Black men are either the perpetrators of crime or victims of it. It is about saving lives,” said Andrey Bundley, who’s leaving his position as safety director for Baltimore City Public Schools to lead the new office, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Mayor Catherine Pugh opens the new office on Feb. 12. Modeled on a similar program in Philadelphia, the Baltimore initiative focuses on providing mentoring and a range of services for boys and men. It will connect to existing mentoring programs and includes a focus on men returning home from prison.
This praiseworthy effort is much needed. Baltimore was one of the most dangerous cities in America in 2017, setting a new per-capita homicide record of 343 killings. The police arrested tens of thousands of African-American males last year. And in many cases, once these young men were caught in the criminal justice system, many of them become repeat offenders. It was estimated in 2015 that 73 percent of former inmates in Baltimore City re-offend within three years.
The program seeks to create a support network, Bundley said. “We need that kind of space for individuals who don’t have a father or who have come out of prison or who are going through the process of getting a job,” he added, noting that scores of young Black men in the city lack families that can help them readjust and stay out of trouble after incarceration.
It’s essential that this program works. The Trump administration intends to keep these vulnerable young men locked up, as it further injects racial bias into a criminal justice system that President Barack Obama took steps to eliminate. Trump’s Justice Department is preparing to relaunch the war on drugs, which would reinstate sentencing guidelines that would impose harsh penalties for minor, nonviolent drug offenses.