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WBAL TV 11: 'Don't break the child': Group pushes back on changes to juvenile justice laws

Published January 16, 2024

By David Collins



While Maryland lawmakers draft legislation in Annapolis, one group is pushing back against changes to juvenile justice laws.

On Tuesday, the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition released a report supporting reform laws recently passed by the Maryland General Assembly.

According to the report, 80% of juvenile offenders who went to jail were rearrested within 2-3 years. Under the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, children younger than 13 who are accused of committing a non-violent offense are not arrested. They can be referred to a supervision program, but according to supporters, many police officers decline to fill out the paperwork.

The public is pressuring lawmakers to change the laws in response to a rise in violent juvenile crime.

"Dear lawmakers, please fix the system. Don't break the child," Rev. Marlon Tilghman said.

But the coalition is concerned about proposed changes, specifically to the Juvenile Justice Reform Act and the Child Interrogation Protection Act.

"It is not OK to be in law enforcement or in the Office of the State's Attorney and intentionally say things like, 'Because of the law, we can't talk to children,'" Baltimore City Sen. Jill Carter, D-District 41, said. "It is not OK to mislead people and claim that violent crime is skyrocketing among young people because of the law."

Department of Juvenile Services secretary Vincent Schiraldi briefed a Senate committee Tuesday and tried to set the record straight on the perception criminals are being caught and released.

"Our policy is to detain all youth charged with the most serious crimes of violence, possession of handguns," Schiraldi said.

Talks are underway to lengthen the probation period so young people can get the services they need. The coalition opposes that measure.

"We must not expand the period of probation simply to allow the Department of Justice additional time to do what they need to do," Maryland public defender Natasha Dartique said.

According to juvenile justice reform advocates, the Juvenile Interrogation Act should not change. Under current law, children have the same rights as adults in their right to remain silent. The law requires children and parents to call a defense attorney before speaking to police.

"Children are three times more likely to make false confessions than adults. More than one third of people who have been exonerated from past convictions were children at the time of their alleged offense," advocate Yanet Amanuel.

To find yearly reports, data and information on youth violence, go to the Department of Juvenile Services website.

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