In Maryland, we find ourselves at a crucial crossroads where we must balance accountability and responsibility to reform the juvenile justice system — all within the 90-day timeframe set for the state’s 2024 legislative session.
In pursuing a just and equitable legal system as state’s attorneys in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, our legislative agenda focuses on necessary changes to existing juvenile laws, and innovative measures that reflect our commitment to progress and prioritizing victims’ rights.
Our shared insight allows us to offer the members of the Maryland General Assembly a combined vision on how to address the symptoms that continue to plague our juvenile justice system. Combined, we have 50 years of political and legal experience, which shapes the compassionate and proactive approach we take to the juvenile crime crisis we have witnessed over the past few years; it addresses the immediate concerns of our community and sets the stage for a brighter future for young people.
Our recommendations are grounded in the three key principles of the juvenile justice system: rehabilitation, accountability and public
Recognizing the critical importance of early intervention, our agenda includes measures to simplify the juvenile intake process and to speed it up, knowing time is of the essence when addressing youth who find themselves in the juvenile justice system. We want to mandate that any juvenile charged with a crime of violence, handgun crime or motor vehicle theft is seen by a juvenile magistrate or judge within 24 hours of arrest.
We aim to break the cycle of delinquency and empower youth with the tools they need to overcome challenges and make positive choices, prioritizing rehabilitation over incarceration. We also recognize that for rehabilitation to be successful, accountability is necessary. To that end, we want to ensure our young people committed to the juvenile justice system are actually receiving the services they need and completing the programs prescribed, by authorizing the court to set appropriate probationary periods based on the successful completion of services and/or programming and eliminating the current arbitrary timeframe. And when deemed in the best interests of the child and public safety, we want courts to be able to commit juveniles to out-of-home placement.
In cases where GPS monitoring is ordered, our agenda includes targeted reforms to address violations of the program. Our proposed changes seek to increase and strengthen our monitoring capabilities and notifications to ensure the safety of the youth, but also to address public safety. We have seen too many instances of young people either committing additional crimes and/or losing their lives while under electronic monitoring. To save lives and to improve public safety, we propose that the Department of Juvenile Services must notify the court, the prosecutor’s office and the defense counsel within 24 hours after a juvenile is found to have violated or breached the contract or perimeter of their home-monitoring agreement.
In advancing this legislative agenda, we are not only responding to the urgent challenges facing our juvenile justice system but also laying the groundwork for a more immediate and effective approach. The longer a juvenile’s whereabouts are unknown, the higher their risk for harm. We recognize that pursuing justice is an ongoing and collaborative effort, and we are committed to engaging with community stakeholders, legal experts and lawmakers to ensure these proposed reforms reflect Baltimore’s diverse needs and perspectives.
And while we appreciate that the leadership in the Maryland General Assembly has included many of our juvenile justice solutions in their comprehensive legislative proposals, we anticipate opposition from opponents of these balanced measures, namely defense counsel. Their advocacy is grounded on the wishes of their clients, without taking into consideration the disruptive and destructive results of their clients’ actions on crime victims.
We do not want residents to fall into this false choice of either protecting our youth or ensuring accountability and safeguarding victims’ rights. This solution is not an either/or option; we can do it all, and our agenda is how we achieve it. Any juvenile justice reform should start and end with accountability, both for the child whose life is in peril and in need of intervention, as well as the system designed to help foster rehabilitation for offenders while ensuring public safety on behalf of residents.
By investing in the future of our youth and prioritizing rehabilitation, we can reshape the narrative of juvenile justice, creating a system that not only holds individuals accountable but also provides them with the resources and support needed to navigate a path toward positive change.
As we embark on this legislative journey, let us collectively strive for a legal system that is not only effective in holding individuals accountable for their actions, but is also compassionate, fair and focused on fostering the well-being of our community. Together, we can build both a better Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and state of Maryland that exemplifies the values of justice, equity and safety.