MLK Birthday: Maryland’s Juvenile Services Abed on Policy Bias and Black Youth Incarceration


For many years now, the Spy has made it a point to track down keynote speakers for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast in Rock Hall for a one-on-one conversation with these remarkable people. While the Spy continues to cover this popular event live, we wanted our readers, most of whom are unable to attend, to understand from these distinguished civil rights leaders, scholars, educators, and government officials the importance of Dr. King’s life but also their thoughts on his legacy in the context of race relations today.

This year, it is Maryland’s Secretary of Juvenile Services, Sam Abed’s turn.

The Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) has the job of managing, supervising, and treating youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system at every stage of the juvenile justice process. From the moment a young person is brought into a juvenile intake center to the time he/she returns to the community after treatment, the DJS has been in a unique position to understand first-hand how Martin Luther King’s vision of justice compares to the reality found in Maryland’s policies and procedures today.

And Secretary Abed is the first to admit, the gaps between Dr. King’s dream and current public policy remains grievously large and extremely difficult to fulfill in some cases.

An example that Abed immediately brings up his own department’s efforts to eliminate systemic bias with the use of a unique decision-making process. Encouraged by early results of using “objective decision tools,” DJS implemented an agency-wide review to weed out racial prejudice from its day-to-day operations. And while he believed his department made a good faith effort to do so, the data results of those efforts were disappointing enough to him and his colleagues to start the review process again.

This gap also remains significant in the percentage of black youth increateated for non-violent offenses. While national trends suggest a markedly reduced level of young people held in state facilities, the racial disparity between incarcerated black youths compared with white adolescents rose by 22%.

In his Spy interview, Secretary Abed remains confident that these systemic issues will eventually be resolved but reminds us that equal justice under the law remains a goal rather than a current reality.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Maryland’s Secretary of Juvenile Services please go here. The MLK Jr. Breakfast is sponsored by the Chester Valley Ministers’ Association, and will be held on January 15 starting  7am and the program will begin at 8 am in Rock Hall. 

About Dave Wheelan

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