Supporters of Hope for Juvenile Justice Reform in Maryland – NBC4 Washington
Supporters of juvenile justice reform in Maryland hope the time is right to end the policy of automatically charging children as adults for certain crimes – a practice that many other states have changed in recent years .
Supporters of the reform say young people who are charged as adults are more likely to receive longer sentences than young people who are charged with similar crimes in a juvenile court. They also say the practice disproportionately affects minorities and undermines the goal of reintegrating young offenders.
Opponents of the policy’s complete removal, however, say they are concerned about placing dangerous minors in facilities that are not secure enough to safely contain them.
Over the past 15 years, 26 states have changed their laws regarding automatic transfers of minors to adult courts. Marcy Mistrett, director of youth justice at the Sentencing Project, told a panel from Maryland supporting the reforms earlier this year that the changes have occurred across a wide range of states, based on science and the research.
“It’s based on what we’ve learned about adolescent development, neuroscience and what the case law has told us, and it’s also based on very good data in terms of effective interventions with young people who are undergoing treatment. engage in serious delinquent or criminal behavior, ”Mistrett told the state’s Juvenile Justice Reform Council.
The council voted this summer to recommend ending automatic charging of young people as adults.
In Maryland, there are more than 30 charges that make minors automatically eligible for transfer to adult court. They include crimes that range from murder to possession of a handgun. From 2013 to 2020, about 7,800 minors were automatically charged as adults in Maryland, and about 80% of them were black, according to state data. Only around 10% of minors accused as adults have been convicted.
“It doesn’t result in convictions in adult court, but it robs these kids of the programs and opportunities they need to become better people,” said Senator Jill Carter, a Democrat from Baltimore who sponsored reform legislation over the past decade and is sponsoring legislation in Maryland’s next session.
Maryland is one of nine states that send more than 200 children to the adult system each year. Policies for automatic transfers of minors were prompted by spikes in crime in the 1990s, but since then a growing number of states have at least reduced the charges that trigger transfers.
In an interview, Carter said the pressure to change policies is “not new” and has been embraced in some conservative states as well.
Judges would still be able to decide after a hearing that minors could be charged in adult court.
But opponents of ending all automatic transfers of minors under current law cite the seriousness of some of the crimes committed by minors and the dangers they could present in less secure juvenile facilities.
Critics point to an uprising in 2018 at the Victor Cullen Center juvenile detention center in Sabillasville, Md., Where eight staff were injured. And in 2020, young people at a treatment center on the grounds of Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County took over the facility in what authorities called a riot. Police requested additional units to take over the facility, and 19 detainees were involved.
Scott Shellenberger, state prosecutor for Baltimore County, said he was concerned about the detention of young people accused of murder in such facilities, citing several cases of minors who have committed extreme acts of violence in the state .
One of the most notable he reported is the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of two snipers who killed 10 people and injured three others in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. during a madness of 2002 which terrorized the region.
Shellenberger served on the Juvenile Justice Reform Council and voted against a complete end to the state’s policy on automatic indictment in adult court for certain crimes. He also said he was concerned about ending the policy as some counties see an increase in violent crime.
“I think there are some people who think very strongly that now is the time to do this, and I don’t understand where this push and desire is coming from given the fact that we are still seeing a huge amount of violence in many counties, ”Shellenberger said.
Several other juvenile justice reforms are also expected to be addressed during this session.
Carter is considering sponsoring a move to bar a law enforcement officer from interrogating a child in detention until the child has consulted a lawyer.
Other proposals include limiting the length of probation a child can have in the juvenile system, creating opportunities for administrative diversion upstream of the process before a child is charged as well as ensuring that “There is no incarceration for misdemeanors or technical violations of probation,” Carter said.