BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office has created a new unit that will review the cases of some incarcerated people serving life sentences to determine whether they should be released from prison.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the program during a news conference Monday evening. In a news release, Mosby said the effort shows a commitment to justice and fairness even after sentencing, adding reducing the number of people behind bars amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health issue.

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“The status quo is neither just nor sustainable. Prosecutors have a responsibility to seek justice over convictions and this new unit will help put into practice the imperative need to review and when appropriate revise sentences that are incompatible with current practices,” Mosby said.

The unit will be headed by Becky Feldman, the former deputy public defender for Maryland.

Mosby said prosecutors have historically played a role in what she called a mass incarceration epidemic that disproportionately impacts people of color. She cited data from the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services that shows almost 80% of people serving life sentences statewide and 94% of people serving life sentences in Baltimore are Black.

“We have a responsibility to right that wrong, which is exactly what we intend to do in the city of Baltimore,” she said.

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The unit will use a number of factors to determine who qualifies for an initial review. The main criteria include having a documented medical condition that puts a person at higher risk for COVID-19. They must also be either over the age of 60 and have served more than 25 years in prison on a life sentence or have spent more than 25 years in prison on a life sentence for a crime they committed under the age of 18.

After an initial review, the unit will look into the mitigating facts of the case, the inmate’s behavior behind bars, their likelihood to re-offend, a re-entry plan and gather input from the victim and next of kin to determine whether the state’s attorney’s office supports release.

Another team will review the case before sending it to Mosby, who will make the final decision. If she decides the person should be released, the state’s attorney’s office will work with defense counsel to look into legal avenues to do so.

Earlier this year, the state released 2,000 inmates from jails and prisons to slow the spread of COVID-19 behind bars.

In January 2019, Mosby said her office would no longer prosecute cases of marijuana possession, arguing “there is no public safety value” in doing so. The change met pushback from some state officials.

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In April of that year, judges denied Mosby’s request to dismiss convictions in nearly 5,000 marijuana possession cases.

CBS Baltimore Staff