The Maryland General Assembly passed a juvenile justice reform measure last year to restructure how the state deals with young people involved in certain crimes by providing them resources versus detaining them behind bars and prosecuting them in court.
Juvenile justice was a major topic in 2023 after several high-profile shootings and crimes, including a mass shooting at the Brooklyn Homes community in Baltimore for which multiple teenagers face charges. Several months later in November, Baltimore police arrested two juveniles, ages 12 and 14, who assaulted, robbed and tried to steal a woman’s car, before being released several hours later.
Also in November, Montgomery County police reported the arrest of about a dozen teenagers for stealing or carjacking. All of them were later released to their parents.
That’s why some lawmakers, state’s attorneys and law enforcement officials want tweaks made to the new juvenile justice law when the next legislative session begins Jan. 10.
“I definitely see that they need to be made and I pray this is the session that they will be made,” said Del. Rachel Muñoz (R-Anne Arundel).
Muñoz, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which held three briefings about juvenile justice issues in the fall, joined her Republican colleagues in November to call for enacting stiffer penalties on crime or rolling back portions of the reform laws.
Among the proposals are changes to the Child Interrogation Protection Act that went into effect Oct. 1, 2022.
Part of the law states that an officer “cannot conduct a custodial interrogation” of a child until an attorney has been consulted. Some lawmakers propose that a parent should be able to consent to such questioning.
Muñoz praised two of the state’s top prosecutors – Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) and Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates (D) – for introducing legislative priorities Dec. 14 that includes a “parent responsibility act” to require parents to enforce juvenile home monitoring guidelines and possibly hold them responsible for truancy. The prosecutors also support changing the limitations of the child interrogation and juvenile probation laws.
“There are some really constructive conversations happening about parental consent for juvenile interrogation,” Muñoz said. “That would take a lot of the weight off the police officers because they’ve been really having a hard time not being able to speak to people who were not even involved in a crime but witnessed it. That might help us to [improve] public safety.”
Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the reform measures, said in an interview that simple education would ensure a better understanding of the law.
In terms of the child interrogation law, Carter said “it is not true” that all lawyers will advise a child to not speak with the police after taken into custody or detained for an alleged offense.
According to the law, an officer may conduct a lawful interrogation of a child if the officer “reasonably believes that the information sought is necessary to protect against a threat to public safety,” and to ask “questions reasonably necessary to obtain the information…to protect the individual from an imminent threat to the life” of that child.
Any interrogation must be recorded, according to the law.
“What I’ve been able to ascertain [is] that there are certain leading law enforcement officials and certain leading prosecutors in the state that have been personally confused, or have not bothered to understand the law,” Carter said. “I’ve been consistently saying that anybody that says they cannot talk to kids, is highly misinformed or being disingenuous.”
Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the discussion around juvenile justice must be broader, including working with state’s attorneys, law enforcement officials, public defenders and the state Department of Juvenile Services (DJS).
Within those conversations, he said, there must be data.
For instance, he asked what happens if a young person was arrested at age 13 and no charges were brought to the department, “What happens six months from now? A year? Two years? When they’re 18? What happened? How many times do police officers make an arrest? We need to aggregate that data.”
Clippinger, a prosecutor in Anne Arundel County, continued: “Something like that can allow us to keep the privacy of the kids in place while we get real genuine data that can help us identify what works and what doesn’t.”
He said the committee will assess the length of time children are on probation.
That was also part of the legislative priorities presented by Braveboy and Bates, who propose extending the probationary period for juveniles guilty of a firearm misdemeanor from six months to two years. For young people found guilty of committing a violent felony, probation would be lengthened from two years to a maximum of four years.
Clippinger and Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the state’s Children in Need of Supervision protocols will also be assessed. The process, also known as CINS and overseen by the Department of Juvenile Services, allows representatives from law enforcement and various agencies to fill out a form to refer youth and their families to a variety of services.
The Judiciary Committee briefings held in the fall revealed that some jurisdictions utilize the CINS referrals and some don’t. Clyde Boatwright, president of the state’s Fraternal Order of Police, said at one of the hearings that some police officers don’t fill the forms because there’s no remedy when youth are sent to juvenile services.
“It’s a tool in the box that’s not being leveraged. That’s a huge deal,” Smith said. “That’s how you hold people accountable. That’s how you supervise [young people]. That’s how you get the services they need so they don’t reoffend. If you’re not even leveraging that, we need to know and we need to understand that.”
Carter said she will reintroduce a child in need of supervision bill from last year that unanimously passed the Senate but failed to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 15 was named after NyKayla Strawder, a 15-year-old girl shot in August 2022 by a nine-year-old boy. The shooting happened in Carter’s district.
The bill would make it mandatory for an intake officer to file a CINS petition if a child under the age of 13 commits an offense that results “in the death of a victim.”
“I really don’t think it’s a bad bill. I think it could be helpful,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Juvenile Services received a three-year, $750,000 federal grant to implement the Second Chance Community-Based Reentry program.
Eric Solomon, spokesperson for the department, said in an email that some of the money will help youth committed to the agency for out-of-home placement and strengthen the agency’s reentry process. The funding will also be used toward education and apprenticeships programs.
The state’s juvenile court committed 260 young people to Juvenile Services in fiscal year 2022, according to the department.
“This grant will enhance our reentry process by connecting youth to services prior to their release so they can have a more seamless transition into community supervision,” Juvenile Services Secretary Vinny Schiraldi said in a statement. “The department understands that there is a better way to serve young people as they navigate the process of reentry, a way that will allow us to help youth meet their fullest potential and reduce recidivism.”
Schiraldi wasn’t available for comment the last week of December.
Smith said one priority bill for the upcoming session would be creating a correctional ombudsman unit in the Office of the Attorney General to oversee the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
The bill, which is supported by Attorney General Anthony Brown (D), passed the Senate but died in the House Rules Committee near the end of last year’s session.
The goal would be for the correctional ombudsman unit to mirror the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, an independent agency within the attorney general’s office. Employees are permitted to make announced and unannounced inspections and visits to facilities, assess various programs and report to the governor and General Assembly.
House Majority Leader David Moon (D-Montgomery) said there’s a plan to reintroduce House Bill 135, which would have changed penalties for drug trafficking in light of cannabis legalization and increased penalties for gun crimes including trafficking and possession of a stolen gun.
It failed to pass in the final minutes of the legislative session last year.
“It got pretty far through. Hopefully, we can bring it back,” Moon said.
During the fall, Moon served as co-chair of the Task Force to Study Transparency Standards for State’s Attorneys. The legislative work group was created to assess whether prosecutors’ policies and practices are fair and equitable.
One work group recommendation that will be presented in a report to the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings committees is to ensure case management systems are modernized in all 23 counties and the city of Baltimore.
“We are very supportive of transparency,” said Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D). “One of the considerations that the legislature has to make is whether or not spend down an unfunded mandate to state’s attorney’s offices, or if the legislature will be proactive in ensuring that we have the resources needed in order to provide the type of information being requested in a timely manner.”
Moon said the legislature will try to allocate money for start-up costs and find state and federal grants to upgrade current software.
“But we’re going to have to see what’s possible in terms of seeding that with money in a tight budget environment,” he said. “We’re going to have to be a little bit creative to try to get some financial support out there to [not] make this an unfunded mandate.”
by William J. Ford