Age limit on ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion con­sid­ered

Panel weighs how young is too young to be con­fined by Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erica L. Green

Mary­land’s Depart­ment of Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices is rec­om­mend­ing that law­mak­ers de­cide how young is too young for a youth to be in a state de­ten­tion cen­ter. It’s one of sev­eral ways of­fi­cials have pro­posed to min­i­mize the im­pact of the depart­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial strip-search and shack­ling poli­cies.

Aleg­isla­tive task force post­poned a vote Thurs­day on that and other rec­om­men­da­tions it will con­sider send­ing the Gen­eral Assem­bly. The group of ad­vo­cates, law­mak­ers and state of­fi­cials con­tin­ues to wres­tle with how far the depart­ment should go to curb its prac­tice of strip-search­ing and shack­ling chil­dren and teens in their cus­tody.

But law­mak­ers were en­cour­aged that at least one bill with the depart­ment’s back­ing could come out of the task force.

The depart­ment pre­vi­ously sup­ported leg­is­la­tion to pro­hibit de­tain­ing youths un­der the age of 12. A writ­ten rec­om­men­da­tion pre­sented to the task force Thurs­day did not spec­ify an age, but a spokes­woman said the agency thinks that “the Gen­eral Assem­bly should ad­dress who is el­i­gi­ble for de­ten­tion.”

Del. Jay Jal­isi spon­sored leg­is­la­tion this year to limit strip-searches and shack­ling. The bill was amended to cre­ate the task force, which has been meet­ing since Septem­ber.

Jal­isi said the depart­ment’s abil­ity to legally de­tain a child as young as 7 years old is among his chief con­cerns.

“Chil­dren un­der the age of 13 shouldn’t be strip-searched and shack­led be­fore

be­ing con­victed of any­thing,” he said.

Cur­rent depart­ment pol­icy re­quires ev­ery youth who en­ters a state-run de­ten­tion cen­ter to be strip-searched at in­take and after any con­tact with the pub­lic. Most youths trans­ported by a depart­ment staffer are shack­led.

In the most re­cent fis­cal year, state of­fi­cials said, two 10-year-olds were de­tained briefly — one for 21⁄ days, the other for 21⁄ hours — and both were stripsearched.

Most youths de­tained by the agency are 15 to 17 years old.

“I think we’re mov­ing in the di­rec­tion,” Jal­isi said. With the depart­ment’s sup­port, “we could get leg­is­la­tion passed.”

But Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Sam Abed said he did not be­lieve leg­is­la­tion was nec­es­sary to al­ter some prac­tices.

The task force was cre­ated to re­view depart­ment pol­icy and rec­om­mend re­forms after some law­mak­ers sought to halt the wide­spread use of strip-searches and shack­ling. The prac­tices are con­sid­ered in­va­sive and harm­ful to chil­dren and had been protested by Mary­land’s ju­ve­nile jus­tice mon­i­tor for years.

The leg­is­la­tion fol­lowed a Baltimore Sun in­ves­ti­ga­tion that de­tailed the rou­tine strip-search­ing and shack­ling of youths in state cus­tody. That in­cludes low-level of­fend­ers who are de­tained briefly and youths who had not yet been found delinquent.

The depart­ment rec­om­mended sev­eral pol­icy changes Thurs­day. It pro­posed elim­i­nat­ing the au­to­matic strip-search­ing of youths after at­tor­ney and fam­ily vis­its, un­less there is rea­son­able sus­pi­cion. It also rec­om­mended not strip-search­ing youths who are un­der the depart­ment’s su­per­vi­sion while trav­el­ing out­side of fa­cil­i­ties. And they rec­om­mended giv­ing gowns to youths who are be­ing strip-searched.

The depart­ment has also pro­posed that youths not be shack­led while be­ing trans­ported for home vis­its. The agency is ex­plor­ing set­ting up a unit ded­i­cated to trans­port­ing youths with­out shack­les. It’s also look­ing at us­ing video con­fer­enc­ing to cut down on the num­ber of times a youth has to be trans­ported to court.

The depart­ment would col­lect data on strip-searches and shack­ling dur­ing trans­port.

“These are all pro­ce­dural changes that we’re com­mit­ted to mak­ing,” Abed said. “Leg­is­lat­ing pro­ce­dures is bad prac­tice ... be­cause we have to be re­spon­sive to sit­u­a­tions as they arise.”

But state Sen. C. An­thony Muse, who spon­sored Jal­isi’s strip-search and shack­ling bill in the Se­nate, said some poli­cies need to be cod­i­fied in state law — in part to en­sure that re­forms are car­ried out.

“We’re not out to leg­is­late ev­ery­thing,” said Muse, a Prince Ge­orge’s County Demo­crat. “But long after I’m gone, the sec­re­tary’s gone, some­thing’s got to be passed down.”

State Sen. Justin Ready, a Car­roll County Repub­li­can and task force mem­ber, op­poses leg­is­lat­ing de­tails like what is con­sid­ered con­tra­band. Some task mem­bers be­lieved that such a list was nec­es­sary to re­duce the sub­jec­tiv­ity of “rea­son­able sus­pi­cion.”

“If you’re try­ing to put a list in law, you’re go­ing to run into prob­lems,” Ready said, adding that the def­i­ni­tion of con­tra­band could change over time.

Nick Moroney, head of the Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Mon­i­tor­ing Unit, said giv­ing a youth a gown did not ad­dress the is­sue of strip-searches. “Hand­ing some­body a gown is not the same as mak­ing sure staff isn’t star­ing at a kid stark naked,” he said.

Deb­o­rah St. Jean, who heads the Ju­ve­nile Pro­tec­tion Divi­sion in the state pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice, said she be­lieved hav­ing youths ap­pear in court via a video con­fer­ence threat­ened their con­sti­tu­tional rights.

St. Jean said the change would pre­vent pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween at­tor­neys and clients dur­ing hear­ings. She also said that for youths who are sent two to four hours from home, it’s one of the only times they get to have con­tact with their fam­i­lies.

“It’s nec­es­sary and es­sen­tial for kids to be able to com­mu­ni­cate,” St. Jean said. “From a due-process point of view … it’s not fair to chil­dren.”

Gavin Patash­nick, head of the ju­ve­nile divi­sion in the Baltimore state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice, tes­ti­fied that he be­lieved the rec­om­men­da­tion would elim­i­nate some of the fear and anx­i­ety of go­ing to court.

He said the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice en­dorsed Abed’s rec­om­men­da­tions and be­lieved they “strike a very healthy and pro­duc­tive bal­ance.”

The depart­ment said it would also de­velop pro­ce­dures for out-of-state travel.

Del. El­iz­a­beth G. “Susie” Proc­tor, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents Charles and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties, said she would like the depart­ment to set lim­its on the length of time youths are held in shack­les. In one case, a youth was shack­led dur­ing a 20-hour-trip to Florida, in­clud­ing when she used the bath­room and ate meals.

Proc­tor rec­om­mended a five-min­ute­break for ev­ery hour, and that a youth have one hand free to eat and use the bath­room.

“That would be the hu­mane thing to do,” Proc­tor said. The depart­ment is con­sid­er­ing keep­ing a youth in shack­les for out-of-state travel only if they have a his­tory of at­tempt­ing to es­cape or have said they will make an at­tempt.

The task force is sched­uled to be­gin vot­ing on a rec­om­men­da­tions next month.

Sa­muel Abed, sec­re­tary of ju­ve­nile ser­vices, says his depart­ment is mov­ing for­ward with re­forms, apart from task force dis­cus­sions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.