This blog comes from Judge Aliyah Sabree, who presides over traffic and misdemeanor cases at the 36th District Court, the largest district court in Michigan, U.S.A. and who was featured in a recent article on The Cisco Newsroom. Meet Judge Sabree and learn more about the Second Chance Justice Reform Initiative on our upcoming Women Rock-IT broadcast on November 18.
Our court is the busiest court in Michigan and one of the largest (caseload wise) in the country. I always tell people we must do our best to not treat our cases as if we are on a factory assembly line. Our judges are required to adjudicate cases within a certain amount of time regardless of the volume, and it can be overwhelming at times.
Before I became a judge, I was a Prosecutor in Wayne County, which has been known for its high crime-rate and heavy caseloads. I was never an overzealous prosecutor, but I didn’t fully understand the root cause of why certain crimes were being committed. I never factored in mental health, poverty, or lack of opportunity as reasons for many of the crimes committed.
With my time on the bench, I have come to understand the root causes of crimes committed–and that we needed a different approach to sentencing.
Fortunately, the Michigan Legislature recently changed several laws to eliminate the high rate of incarceration here. Previously, people charged with traffic misdemeanors could be jailed for up to 93 days. The changes made by the state legislature are significant, in that the courts are required to look to all other options for sentencing before incarceration.
About a year ago, I met most of the stakeholders of the Second Chance Justice Reform Initiative from Cisco. They offered an ideal program to help young offenders as an alternative to fines or sentencing.
The Second Chance Initiative combines job-ready education in IT skills from the Cisco Networking Academy with deep mentoring on everything from time management to acing job interviews.
I am thankful to be selected to help kick-off the program. The Cisco team is simply amazing. Outside of the obvious IT training the students received throughout the program, the Cisco team continue to mentor the students.
Cisco knew exactly what they wanted to achieve through this initiative. They fully funded the initiative and offered genuine help to students/defendants, so they could change their paths for the better.
I speak to four of the Second Chance graduates on a regular basis, just to make sure they’re okay. They always talk about how awesome the program is and how their mentors are helping them through so much, even outside of the IT field. What they don’t realize is that it makes my day to hear their good news and their enthusiasm when it comes to new opportunities.
Through extensive conversations with the students and even some of their parents, I’ve determined this program has provided opportunity and hope while also boosting their confidence and skill sets. I look forward to boasting about our success rates after a few more graduating classes.
I want our graduating class to grow every year. I want Detroit’s success to be a model for other cities around the country. We are working towards starting our next class of students soon, and a phase two for the former students who want to excel to the next level of IT.
There are so many young people in Detroit who need just one legitimate second chance, like this program, to succeed.
I truly believe that staying close with the community in which I serve and remaining active in defendants’ lives lends a judge greater insight into the many challenges of offenders. As a native Detroiter and product of Detroit public schools, I feel that I understand those I serve and continue to be optimistic that the judiciary as whole will transform the way we look at incarceration, to give offenders a second chance.