The Star Democrat

Supporters of juvenile justice reform hopeful in Maryland

- BY BRIAN WITTE

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Supporters of juvenile justice reform in Maryland are hopeful the time has come 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 reform say juveniles who are charged as adults are more likely to receive longer sentences than youth who are charged with similar crimes in juvenile court.They also say the practice disproport­ionately affects minorities and undermines the goal of rehabilita­ting young offenders.

Opponents of ending the policy entirely, however, say they’re concerned about putting dangerous juveniles in facilities that are not secure enough to confine them safely.

In the past 15 years, 26 states have made changes to their laws regarding the automatic transfers of juveniles to adult court. Marcy Mistrett, director of youth justice at The Sentencing Project, told a Maryland panel supporting reforms earlier this year that the changes have been happening in a broad range of states, based on science and research.

“It is based on what we have learned about adolescent developmen­t, neuroscien­ce, and what jurisprude­nce has told us, and it is also based on really good data in terms of effective interventi­ons with young people who engage in delinquent and or serious criminal behavior,” Mistrett told the state’s Juvenile Justice Reform Council.

The council voted this summer to recommend ending the automatic charging of youth as adults.

In Maryland, there are more than 30 charges that make juveniles automatica­lly eligible for transfer to adult court. They include crimes that range from murder to handgun possession. From 2013 to 2020, about 7,800 juveniles were automatica­lly charged as adults in Maryland, and about 80% of them were Black, according to state data. Only about 10% of the juveniles charged as adults were convicted.

“It doesn’t result in conviction­s in adult court, but what it does is deprive those children of the programs and opportunit­ies that they

need to become better people,” said state Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who has sponsored reform legislatio­n over the last decade and is sponsoring legislatio­n in the upcoming Maryland session.

Maryland is one of nine states that send more than 200 children to the adult system every year. Policies of automatic transfers of juveniles were driven by crime spikes in the 1990s, but since then a growing number of states have at least narrowed the charges that trigger the transfers.

In an interview, Carter said the push to change the policies is “not new” and has been embraced in some conservati­ve states, too.

Judges would still be able to decide after a hearing that juveniles could be charged in adult court.

But opponents of ending all automatic juvenile transfers under the current law cite the seriousnes­s of some of the crimes committed by juveniles and the dangers they could present in less secure juvenile facilities.

Critics point to a 2018 uprising at the Victor Cullen Center juvenile-detention center in Sabillasvi­lle, Maryland, where eight staff members were injured. And in 2020, youth committed to a treatment center on the grounds of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County took over the facility in what authoritie­s described as a riot. Police requested additional units in order to retake the facility, and 19 detainees were involved.

Scott Shellenber­ger, Baltimore County’s state’s attorney, said he’s concerned about holding youths charged with murders in such facilities, citing multiple cases of juveniles who have committed extreme acts of violence in the state.

One of the most notable ones he pointed to is the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of the two snipers who killed 10 people and left three others wounded in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. in a 2002 spree that terrorized the region.

Shellenber­ger served on the Juvenile Justice Reform Council and voted against entirely ending the state’s policy on automatica­lly charging in adult court for certain crimes. He also said he was concerned about ending the policy when some counties are experienci­ng a rise in violent crime.

“I think there’s some people who feel very strongly that now is the time to get this done, and I don’t understand where that push and desire is coming from in light of the fact that we’re still seeing a tremendous amount of violence in a lot of counties,” Shellenber­ger said.

Several other juvenile justice reforms also are expected to be taken up this session.

Carter plans to sponsor a measure to prohibit a law enforcemen­t officer from conducting a custodial interrogat­ion of a child until the child has consulted with an attorney.

Other proposals include putting limits on the length of probation a child can have in the juvenile system, creating opportunit­ies for administra­tive diversion at the front end of the process before a child is charged as well as ensuring there is no incarcerat­ion for misdemeano­rs or technical violations of probation, Carter said.

 ?? AP PHOTO/BRIAN WITTE ?? In this Jan. 24, 2020 photo, Maryland State Senator Jill Carter, of Baltimore, stands in the Maryland Senate in Annapolis, Md. Supporters of juvenile justice reform in Maryland are hopeful the time has come to end the policy of automatica­lly charging young people as adults for certain crimes _ a trend that has been happening in other states around the country in recent years.
AP PHOTO/BRIAN WITTE In this Jan. 24, 2020 photo, Maryland State Senator Jill Carter, of Baltimore, stands in the Maryland Senate in Annapolis, Md. Supporters of juvenile justice reform in Maryland are hopeful the time has come to end the policy of automatica­lly charging young people as adults for certain crimes _ a trend that has been happening in other states around the country in recent years.

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