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Marc Morial
Mark Morial
Marion Wright Edelman
Marion Wright Edelman


Taskforce Will Study College Students’ Mental Healthcare Access

Capital News Service

(Feb. 12, 2021)—College students nationwide are reporting increased instances of depression, anxiety, and related symptoms, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

A bill in the Maryland Legislature would create a task force to study the barriers this population faces when seeking mental healthcare.

College students are, under normal circumstances, at high risk of developing new and struggling with existing mental illness, according to the American Psychological Association.

“Late adolescence is a stage in life where a lot of mental illness presents; one in five youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder and suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds,” said Dr. Sarah Edwards, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and medical director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services at the University of Maryland.

Preliminary research out of Texas A&M University shows the myriad emotions students are experiencing 11 months into the pandemic—fears about getting sick; isolation from family and friends; stress about the future—are only making mental health matters worse.

“Mental health issues are the leading impediment to academic success,” the researchers wrote, and stress over the virus has exacerbated an already-increasing trend in students seeking treatment for anxiety.

Pandemic-induced social isolation is responsible for much of students’ psychological turmoil, Edwards said. The primary developmental task of college-age students is to create and maintain close, intimate relationships, and the pandemic has all but prevented this.

“Having to be at home doing online learning really prevents that from happening,” Edwards said. “The pandemic is certainly taking its toll because of the chronic stress and isolation and disruption of routines.”

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s, who is sponsoring the cross-filed HB 244, also observes these trends and thinks it is clear the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing issues. 

The findings of a 2019 Joint Chairman’s Report on Mental Health, which Valentino-Smith said significantly influenced the bill’s creation, indicated many of the issues surrounding access on campuses are longstanding.

The report, which looked at data from the University System of Maryland, Morgan State University, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, revealed the greatest challenges colleges and universities cite in the effort to provide mental healthcare are a lack of staffing and resources, and the inability to meet student needs and expectations.

Retaining qualified staff is a challenge in and of itself, the report said, due in part to heavy workloads. The report said the University of Maryland, College Park—the largest university next to University of Maryland Global Campus—employed 25.2 full-time mental health and counseling professionals to serve more than 40,000 students, a 1 to 1,587 student-to-staff ratio.

Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico, the lead sponsor of SB 161, previously worked in psychiatric nursing.

Her concern is both for students who are dealing with mental health issues for the first time as a result of COVID-19 and for those who have an underlying mental illness or substance abuse issue and struggle to obtain treatment.

“What we want to do is to get a good pulse on what our private and public schools of higher ed are already offering students, and then trying to see if that's adequate, or if we need to do more,” Eckardt said.

The task force, which would go into effect June 1 and last for two years, will explore the ways in which the state’s community colleges, private and public institutions of higher education approach mental healthcare and what barriers to access present most often.

But, Valentino-Smith said, fulfilling these needs looks different on every campus, and the task force will be able to look for solutions for each institution.

Once completed, the mental health task force would offer suggestions for areas of improvement, including how to eliminate financial barriers, how to implement tools like telemedicine, and whether specialized forms of therapy should be offered to students.

The task force will cost $60,545 in its first year to assist the Maryland Higher Education Commission in hiring a full-time employee to staff the panel, according to a state legislative analysis.

Emma Content, a 2019 graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, testified Jan. 20 on behalf of the bill and said it is a crucial step toward supporting students.

Content was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and panic disorder as a college student, and she attributed her withdrawal from the rural campus for a year to inaccessible mental healthcare.

For years, she told lawmakers, students at St. Mary’s have been clear that they need more mental health staff and resources, though she does recognize this issue is not unique to her alma mater.

Content said she hopes the task force examines all of these issues but thinks services for LGBTQ+ students, students of color, and first-generation students should receive extra focus, as these students may need more specialized care.

“If we fail to pass the task force we really miss the opportunity to start the robust discussion with a diverse group of experts that can help make recommendations for our future approach to these students,” Valentino-Smith said.






Juvenile Reform Bill to Prohibit Life without Parole for Many

Capital News Service

Sentencing juveniles to life without parole could essentially end in Maryland if legislation going through the General Assembly becomes law. 

“No child should ever be told that they have no hope for the future but to die in prison. We are all of us more than the worst mistake we made as a teenager,” Del. Jazz Lewis, D-Prince George’s, the bill’s sponsor, told Capital News Service in an email last month.

The bill, HB0409, also known as the Juvenile Restoration Act, would do two main things:

• Allow courts to deviate from sentence minimums required by the law when dealing with children younger than 18, and no longer allow the sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole or release.

• Allow someone who has already served at least 20 years for a crime committed as a minor to apply for a sentence reduction. In such cases, the sentencing court will conduct a hearing and the individual could receive a shortened sentence or even be released.

Jayna Peterson, an intern for the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, emphasized that the bill “isn’t a ‘get out of jail free’ card.”

“It will give people who have been rehabilitated the chance to have a life,” she said. 

She added that those who are still risks will stay in prison and serve out their sentences.

Advocates for the bill also argue that it is needed to help address the large racial disparity present in Maryland’s penal system.

“Over 400 people would be immediately eligible for this review, meaning they have already served more than 20 years for a crime they committed when they were under 18,” Lewis said in the email. “Of this population, 87% are Black, which is the worst racial disparity in the nation. The Juvenile Restoration Act is therefore needed to begin to correct a gross racial injustice.”

A 2019 study done by the Justice Policy Institute, a national justice reform nonprofit, found that proportionally, Maryland incarcerates more Black citizens than any other state, with Black inmates comprising 71.3% of Maryland’s total prison population—“and more than double the national average” of 32%.

Individuals who reported their race as Black alone make up only 13.4% of the U.S. population and 31.1% of Maryland’s population as of July 1, 2019, according to the United States Census Bureau.  Additionally, 82% of youths sentenced to life without parole in Maryland are Black, the highest proportion of any state, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, a national organization focused on ending the extreme sentencing of children, based on records received from the Maryland Department of Corrections.

Preston Shipp, the senior policy counsel for the campaign, said the bill is “a step towards correcting just a terrible racial injustice.”

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have already abolished juvenile life without parole.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional in nonhomicide-related offenses.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that juvenile life without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional in all but the most extreme cases.

The court found children to be constitutionally different from adults, therefore sentencing a child to life without parole would go against the Eighth Amendment, barring cruel and unusual punishment.

“Even though the court in that case (Miller v. Alabama) was dealing explicitly and specifically with mandatory life without parole for kids, what they went on to say is that it would be unconstitutional except in the rarest of cases, because it leaves no room for second chances,” Shipp said. 

In the 2016 case Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court ruled that the Miller decision held retroactively for all cases that had been sentenced prior.

The states and jurisdictions that abolished juvenile life without parole based their decisions “largely on these (Supreme Court cases’) holdings,” Lewis wrote in the email.

“States as diverse as Texas and Massachusetts, Oregon and Arkansas, California and West Virginia, North Dakota and Nevada have all concluded that no child should ever be told that they have no hope for the future but to die in prison,” he added.

Peterson said that Maryland is essentially using a loophole to sentence minors to life without parole.

Shipp clarified by adding that “that’s what makes that 20-year judicial review in the Juvenile Restoration Act so terribly important,” because the Maryland judicial system has ways of giving “de facto life without parole sentences.”

“Somebody who’s 15 who gets a 70-year sentence or a 90-year sentence...they're never gonna live to see the end of that sentence,” Shipp said.

A recent study from Montclair State University found that juvenile lifers “can be considered low-impact releases.”

The study analyzed juvenile lifers in Philadelphia, and, as of December 2019, of the 174 released during the time of the study, only six were rearrested—3.45%—and only two of those six were reconvicted—a recidivism rate of 1.14%.

The study compared its findings with the national rearrest rate of homicide offenders, of which “an estimated 30% are rearrested within two years of release.”

The bill has received widespread public support on social media by celebrities including actors Alyssa Milano and Jon Cryer, former Baltimore Raven Torrey Smith, and Meena Harris, a lawyer and niece to Vice President Kamala Harris.

Supporters used the hashtag #SupportTheJRA on Twitter.

Joseph Riley, the state’s attorney for Caroline County and legislative chair of the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association, testified in opposition during  a Jan. 21 hearing, on behalf of the association.

Riley made clear that his opposition focused on the sentence-reduction aspect of the bill, saying that “it’s not a second chance.” Adults convicted of a crime—or juveniles convicted of adult crimes—have more than a dozen ways and opportunities to challenge their conviction, Riley testified.

Riley told Capital News Service that before one would even have their case looked at under the bill’s terms, they would’ve exhausted all other efforts to “attack” their sentence, each time getting denied.

Victims are notified during these attempts, Riley added, causing them to continually relive that trauma and forcing them to decide, if they are permitted, whether or not to attend each hearing—something Riley said the prosecution would encourage them to do in order to help the verdict stick.

Under the Juvenile Restoration Act, an individual whose motion for a sentence reduction was denied, or only granted in part, would be able to petition the court again after at least three years—they may do this up to three times.

Riley told Capital News Service that his main issue is with an individual’s ability for a second and third reduction attempt after being denied under the bill initially.

“This will give you a 14th, 15th and 16th way to attack a sentence,” Riley testified. “At some point, when will we let the victims rest in the state of Maryland?”

Lewis sponsored a similar bill during the 2020 legislative session, but it failed to advance when the Legislature concluded early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Juvenile Restoration Act is cross-filed in the Senate under bill number SB0494.

Senator Chris West, R-Baltimore County, is its lead sponsor.

“We all hope that as members of the General Assembly we can pass legislation which would facilitate justice being done in society,” West said. “I think that the feeling of those of us who support this bill, is that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole, even for a heinous crime committed when the person was 16 or 17 years old, is just over the line.”

West added that “everybody at the age of 17 does irresponsible things,” and while that doesn’t excuse the more extreme actions, sentencing a child to life because of it, “just sounds to us to be unjust.”

SB0494 is scheduled for a hearing in the Judicial Proceedings Committee on Feb. 17, at 1 p.m.

No date has been set yet for a committee vote on HB0409.

“We’re the only country in the world that would sentence a child to die in prison,” said Shipp. “For too long, Maryland has denied its kids hope.”




 Marc Morial, President and CEO National Urban League
Check back next week for Marc Morial's column. 


Marian Wright Edelman 

ChildWatch: Proud Shoutout to My Spelman College Sister Rosalind Gates Brewer 

On March 15 Rosalind Brewer, often seen on Forbes and Fortune magazines’ lists of the world’s 100 most powerful women, will become CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. making her the only Black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. As a proud Spelman College alumna and Chair of Spelman’s Board of Trustees her success is another example of the extraordinary role historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have played in instilling excellence in their graduates and preparing them to lead at the highest level in every field.

HBCUs have produced many business leaders, doctors, lawyers, faith leaders, educators and public servants well prepared to serve our communities and help transform our nation including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who graduated from Spelman’s brother school Morehouse College, and Mattiwilda Dobbs, a member of the Metropolitan Opera. The United Negro College Fund reported in 2015 that HBCUs made up only 3% of America’s colleges and universities but produced almost 20% of all African American graduates and 25% of African American graduates in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Today alumnae like Spelman’s Rosalind Brewer and Howard University graduate Vice President Kamala Harris are setting examples for children of color at the highest level and Black History Month is a fitting time to celebrate them and other trailblazers.

Brewer grew up in Detroit surrounded by a strong family and community. Her parents were employed at General Motors. She said: “At four years old, I would be home alone for a couple of hours between when my mom had to report to work and my older siblings came home from school. My mom would prop me up in the window, and the neighbors would all look to make sure my head was still there. Sometimes, as they walked by, the neighbors would yell, ‘Don’t you get off that couch!’ You wouldn’t leave your 4-year-old like that now, but it took a village to raise all of us.” She was a first-generation college student who helps support others through Spelman’s Rosalind Gates Brewer Scholarship: “They are what I call purposeful students. They are on a mission. But as first-generation students they face several challenges...When they think the odds are against them, I think they’re in their favor because they are fighters. Nine times out of ten these students are breaking the mold when they come to Spelman College.”

Rosalind Brewer knows a lot about breaking molds. She graduated from Spelman with a degree in chemistry and launched her professional career at Kimberly-Clark Corporation as a scientist. Over the next 22 years she climbed the management ladder and led one of the company’s global divisions. She then joined Walmart and became president and CEO of Sam’s Club and the first Black and first woman leader of a Walmart division. After Walmart she became the first woman and first Black chief operating officer of the Starbucks Corporation and the second Black woman on Amazon’s board. Speaking at Spelman’s 2018 commencement, Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell said: “Those glass ceilings are real, but Roz Brewer has become an adept glasscutter.”

Brewer told Spelman graduates, “When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot. You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have the top job. Sometimes you’re mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you’re in the wrong place. And all I can think in the back of my head is, ‘No, you’re in the wrong place.’ The wrong place that ‘sunken place’ is everywhere, deep inside our culture. If there’s a place where bias doesn’t exist, I haven’t found it.” Her perseverance is an example, despite a culture still too resistant to recognize women and people of color as leaders in every sphere, I hope every little girl can learn about and emulate.

She joins Walgreens at a critical time as they engage in the massive effort to provide COVID-19 vaccines and make special efforts to target rural and underserved communities. The work to educate communities of color and assure them access to the life-saving vaccine is urgent and crucial.

It’s extraordinarily hard to be what you can’t see, and I am so grateful that Rosalind Brewer has become a very visible standard of corporate leadership and excellence for all women and children everywhere, especially those of color.





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