Md. judiciary chairman: Youth violence is ‘a failing … of all of us’

Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent N. Schiraldi defended his agency’s work and pushed back against talk of repealing recent juvenile justice reforms in a five-hour hearing Wednesday as spiking youth gun violence and carjackings renew state lawmakers’ focus on youth crime.

As he sought to temper lawmakers’ anxieties over reports of youth-involved violence bubbling up in their communities, Schiraldi, who joined Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s administration about eight months ago, pointed to administration research published a day earlier that he said should counter a perception of a major surge in youth violence.

But while his agency’s data shows that overall youth violence in Maryland has been declining for more than decade, several lawmakers questioned the findings and police chiefs and state’s attorneys organizations called for a second look at the impact of recent changes to youth criminal justice laws, such as a ban on police interrogating juveniles without the consent of an attorney.

“There is an issue with juvenile crime. If you are 12 or 13 you may not recognize the consequence of your crime but you certainly know what you’re doing at 12 or 13,” Del. Karen Toles (D-Prince George’s) said. “We need to stop making excuses for these kids, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

Wednesday’s meeting came on the same day Baltimore City police arrested a 15-year-old in connection to what is believed to be the largest single shooting in the city’s history.

Police announced that a teenage boy was charged with 44 counts, including attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, reckless endangerment, and loaded handgun on a person.

The teenager, who was arrested at home, is accused of shooting several individuals in the historic attack that left two people dead and 28 — mostly teenagers — injured in the Brooklyn section of the city.

House Judiciary Chairman Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore), who represents Brooklyn, opened the meeting rattling off details of some of the more recent horrific shootings involving juveniles: 30 people shot in Brooklyn, eight people (five teenagers) shot, one dead, in Salisbury.

“Any time a juvenile is found to be delinquent, any time a juvenile is found to be in possession of a firearm, or dangerous weapon, it’s a failing … of all of us, a global failing,” Clippinger said. “A failing of parents, school, law enforcement, the juvenile justice system, everyone, including us here in the legislature.”

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The Department of Juvenile Services analysis shows that juvenile arrests were down by 17 percent in fiscal 2023 when compared with fiscal 2020, mirroring a national trend.

But Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr. (R-Baltimore) said he felt “like I’m being gaslighted a little bit” by the findings.

Clippinger said he thinks the numbers have dropped because police officers have not brought charges.

Law enforcement officials said legislation that raised the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 13, except for 10-to-12-year-olds accused of serious violent offenses, has resulted in older juveniles and adults recruiting younger children to commit crimes.

Several lawmakers, including Clippinger, raised questions about the ratio of probation officers within the agency, the intake process and how well the electronic monitoring system works, hinting that changes could be made to those areas.

Data in hand, Md. juvenile services chief says youth crime is down

Schiraldi, a national voice on overhauling the corrections and juvenile systems before he joined Moore’s cabinet eight months ago, said policy discussions should be driven by data, not by what elected officials may be hearing at town hall meetings. He has expressed frustration that a spate of crime could jeopardize efforts for additional reform in Maryland, a position shared by the Maryland Public Defenders Office on Wednesday.

Law enforcement officials from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties said the statewide data released by Schiraldi is not reflective of what they have seen in their jurisdictions.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said the number of juvenile arrests nearly doubled in his county between 2021 and 2022, led by an “explosion” in carjackings, which jumped 85 percent, and handgun violations, which rose 220 percent.

“There are not adequate programs in the juvenile justice system,” McCarthy said, agreeing with public defenders who also called for additional services to juveniles in the system during the meeting. “We’re just churning kids, we’re not solving problems. We’re not rehabilitating kids, which is the goal of everyone on this call.”

McCarthy said it was a “disgrace” that a drug and alcohol residential treatment facility for juveniles does not exist in Maryland.

Law enforcement officials said they worried about the effect that recent juvenile justice reform laws have had on their ability to stem the violence. One asked the committee to rescind the child interrogation law, saying it takes away parental rights, arguing that some parents want their children to “suffer the consequences” of their actions but the law impedes them from allowing their child to talk to police.

Members of the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition criticized the House Judiciary Committee for not including an advocate for juvenile reform among the people it called to give testimony.

“MYJC is dismayed at the lack of representation at today’s briefing from experts outside of the criminal and juvenile justice system,” the group said in a statement. “A full briefing that includes testimony from youth, youth advocates, policy experts on youth justice, representatives from the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, and Department of Education are all a necessary part of the dialogue around how the state of Maryland should best serve kids in need.”

The lawmakers heard from the Department of Juvenile Services, Maryland Chiefs and Sheriff’s Association, the Office of the Public Defender and the State’s Attorneys’ Association.

Clippinger said future meetings will be scheduled ahead of the January 2024 session.

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