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Baltimore Sun: Maryland’s juvenile cases should begin in juvenile court | GUEST COMMENTARY

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

By Logan Seacrest and Jillian Snider

For The Baltimore Sun Published: Mar 06, 2023 at 8:50 am

Under a bill in the Maryland General Assembly, juveniles charged with crimes in Maryland would have their cases automatically begin in juvenile court, though they could be transferred to adult court later if a judge rules it warranted. (Baltimore Sun)

In 2020, Human Rights for Kids, a national nonprofit that advocates for juvenile justice reform, labeled Maryland among the worst human rights offenders in the country. Policymakers took the criticism to heart, embarking on a mission to do better. Since then, Maryland has ended mandatory minimums for youth, prohibited children under 13 from being subject to criminal liability for nonviolent offenses and provided juveniles some of the most comprehensive due process protections in the United States. In its 2022 report, Human Rights for Kids called Maryland the “most improved state.”

This session, the Maryland General Assembly has the opportunity to maintain that momentum. Lawmakers will consider Senate Bill 93 and House Bill 96, the Youth Equity and Safety Act — or the “YES Act” — a common-sense measure that will ensure children are charged in juvenile court rather than adult court. Under current law, Maryland remains one of the few states that automatically charges kids as young as 14 as adults. By treating kids like kids and beginning all juvenile cases in juvenile court, Maryland can reduce youth recidivism, enhance public safety and put a stop to a needless waste of justice system resources.

Each year, Maryland continues to send more young people to adult court than any other state, except for Alabama. Most of these cases never result in an adult criminal conviction. Between 2017 and 2019, 87% of juvenile cases charged in adult court ended up being either transferred back to juvenile court or dismissed. It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and constituents’ time by eliminating pointless transfer hearings, after which most youth are sent back to juvenile court anyway.

Importantly, the YES Act does not prevent youth from being prosecuted as adults. Cases could still be elevated to adult court based on careful consideration of evidence. The law only requires that all children have their cases originate in juvenile court. In this way, the YES Act gives prosecutors and judges more discretion over serious cases, not less.

Maryland’s current system sets many youth on a lifelong path of justice system involvement. Youth prosecuted as adults have higher rates of recidivism and are more likely to commit violent crimes later in life compared to those kept in the juvenile system. Furthermore, even brief detentions in adult lockup can result in serious physical danger to children.

The YES Act will also ensure Maryland can take full advantage of federal crime prevention grants by bringing the state in line with the Federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act Reauthorization of 2018, which requires youth under 18 be removed from adult jails and serve sentences in juvenile detention facilities.

Some opponents of the proposal argue that, while the idea is sound, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) does not have the capacity to handle an influx of new cases. However, starting children in juvenile court instead of adult court will result in shorter pretrial detention periods, thus reducing the burden of DJS staffing challenges. In short, the YES Act has the potential to alleviate crowding instead of exacerbating it.

Juveniles charged with serious offenses need to be held accountable. But accountability does not mean excessive punishment, and it need not come at the expense of recognizing the inherent differences between children and adults. Research on adolescent brain development proves that the human brain does not finish maturing until well into adulthood, and most youths age out of delinquent behavior. That’s why prosecutors should be required to show that a juvenile poses a serious public safety risk and has little promise of rehabilitation before forcing them into the adult criminal system.

The juvenile justice system is, by design, less punitive, more rehabilitative and better suited to meet the dynamic needs of the youth population. It should be informed by data and evidence rather than by ideology or politics. Kids deserve the chance to make amends and learn from their mistakes without government overreach that can have a devastating impact on a child’s life. That is why it is critical that Maryland pass the YES Act and end its extravagant misuse of government resources.

Logan Seacrest ( is a former legislative and judicial policy analyst, and a resident fellow for Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at the R Street Institute. Jillian Snider ( is the policy director for R Street’s Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties team, an adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired New York Police Department officer.


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