We think the plea deal offered former South Pointe High School quarterback Davonta Blake represents an enlightened approach on the part of Circuit Court Judge John Hayes.
Blake was arrested in October and charged with six felony drug offenses after police say he brought marijuana to South Pointe and sold it to a student. He faced up to 40 years in prison if convicted on all six charges.
But on May 15, he was given another option. In what his lawyer, Twana Burris-Alcide, called an extended “olive branch,” Blake was offered a deal in which he could plead guilty to three of the six charges but won’t serve time behind bars if he manages to stay out of trouble for at least five years.
Hayes sentenced Blake to six years under the state’s Youthful Offender Act, but deferred any punishment until he successfully completes a juvenile drug court program. And if he isn’t arrested within the next five years, his record will be expunged.
“Everyone is in agreement that Mr. Blake deserves a second chance,” said Jennifer Colton, the assistant York County solicitor who prosecuted Blake.
And Blake, too, appeared both grateful and remorseful at the hearing. He read from a letter to 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Bracket, saying, “I feel like I let my community down, and that’s nothing I ever wanted to do.” He also apologized for bringing embarrassment to his “South Pointe family, which seemed to be my only family at times.”
“I understand some people ... my age aren’t given a second chance, so I am very thankful,” he said.
America’s prisons are teeming with young men like Blake who weren’t given a second chance, first-time, nonviolent drug offenders, many of them sentenced under obsolete mandatory minimum sentencing rules. A disproportionate number of them are African Americans, as is Blake.
The U.S. Justice Department recently acted unilaterally to review the cases of thousands of federal inmates who already would have served their time if they had been sentenced under current standards. Many of them will be released and paroled.
But we think offering offenders such as Blake a second chance to straighten out their lives and avoid jail time is the more sensible approach. Blake, a once-promising high school athlete, now has the opportunity to become a productive citizen without a record that could have hindered him for the rest of his life.
We don’t think Blake deserved this plea deal simply because he played high school football, and we doubt that was a significant factor in Judge Hayes’ decision to offer him the deal. A similar plea bargain should be considered for any young nonviolent offender without an extensive juvenile record who expresses a sincere willingness to reform.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Housing roughly 2.3 million inmates costs an estimated $24,000 per prisoner per year, and the nation continues to spend billions of dollars a year to build new prisons to accommodate them.
Jurisdictions everywhere need to find more sensible alternatives to indiscriminate lengthy prison sentences. We salute Judge Hayes and hope Blake will take advantage of this chance to reset his bearings and change his life.