Recent changes to Maryland’s juvenile justice system have eroded any meaningful legal consequences for young offenders, even violent and dangerous ones, offering instead impunity or undue leniency for their crimes.
One of these rules allows unelected officials at the Department of Juvenile Services — not judges, prosecutors, or police — to arbitrarily drop all charges before they get to court. This matters because Governor Wes Moore appointed Vincent Schiraldi to lead that department. Secretary Schiraldi has indicated clearly that he hopes to shutter most youth correctional facilities.
He does not believe that brains are fully developed until the age of 25; hence, he takes the Juvenile Justice Reform and other measures promoted by liberals in Annapolis and takes them a step further. He has stated publicly that he does not believe that probation and parole work. Is he going to do away with those next?
Secretary Schiraldi in other publications has also criticized news media coverage of crime, saying in 2001 that it may have driven as many as 47 states to pass tougher juvenile crimes. At the time, Schiraldi was working for the D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, an organization that supports alternatives to incarceration. Governor Moore has taken this progressive thinking and placed it directly in his cabinet in a time of crisis.
In early January, after a 12 year old brought a handgun, clip, and ammunition to a middle school on Fort Meade, the Anne Arundel County Police Department held a press conference and highlighted that “Due to the new Juvenile Justice Reform, HB459 voted into law; there are NO APPLICABLE CHARGES. Since the law took effect on June 1, 2022, we have had dozens of cases where juvenile suspects were located, identified, and unable to be charged.”
The Anne Arundel County Police Department released a redacted report outlining the various crimes that could not be charged due to the Juvenile Justice Reform legislation. This was only the beginning of the fury brewing.
In Prince George’s County, a curfew was put into place during a spike in carjackings and other violent crime during Labor Day weekend. The County Executive, Angela Alsobrooks (D), commented on the measure saying, “At this point, these kids don’t just need a hug, they need to be held accountable.”
And just two weeks ago, the Aberdeen Police Department responded to a call at Aberdeen Middle School when a 12-year-old boy was allegedly sexually assaulting multiple girls at a Valentine’s Dance.
They released a statement after responding to the incident saying, “The Aberdeen Police Department met with all the victims who came forward to report an assault. Due to juvenile justice reform legislation that was passed in 2022, criminal charges will not be filed. The new law prohibits Maryland police from criminally charging suspects under the age of 13. Sanctions will be handled by Harford County Public Schools.”
Parents and even the students themselves were outraged that nothing was done by the Police Department as well as the School System to hold this young man accountable. Protests have taken place, even students from Aberdeen High School walked out to join the middle school students during one of the protests. A petition has been circulating across the country highlighting this injustice with over 26,000 supporters.
HB698 will reinstate penalties/consequences for youth 11 and over to be heard in juvenile court (not adult court). It’s important to note that juvenile court charges and sentencing are privacy protected and do not carry over into adulthood. This gives youth offenders the ability to get the tools and services they need to rehabilitate their behavior and hopefully not become adult criminals.
Governor Moore, during a WBAL radio interview recently, said Secretary Schiraldi’s work was less about ideology and more about science. He said, “What he’s talking about is brain science, right? Brain science just talks about the basic development of the brain, and he looked at the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that actually focuses on judgment. The prefrontal cortex brain science shows that one does not have a measurement of full development until a person hits around 25 years old.”
This argument to coddle young criminals is flawed. Brain science says that teens’ brains need consequences to link impulsive behaviors to facts which will lead to changed behaviors. Scientists also point out that teen brains are also very capable of prosocial growth under the right circumstances.
During opportunities for teachable moments, young people need exactly what a consequence does – teaches them to not commit that crime again. Of utmost importance is that government not forget that public safety is its #1 job and standing up for innocent victims when crimes are committed against them. In an effort to curb these anti-social behaviors that victimize others, we are working with our colleagues in Annapolis to pass HB698.
The views expressed in this column reflect the opinions and research of the authors and not necessarily those of The Avenue’s editorial staff.
”Now You Know” is a weekly column written by state delegates Ryan Nawrocki and Kathy Szeliga.
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