Maryland lawmakers debate Juvenile Law Reform bill amid youth crime concerns

BALTIMORE — Juvenile crime is a hot-button issue, and on Thursday, state lawmakers met to discuss legislation that would change aspects of current law.

Supporters of the “Juvenile Law Reform” bill say the changes to the law will hold young people accountable while also providing resources.

Those who oppose the bill say this legislation goes too far.

Speaker Adrienne Jones is a sponsor of the Juvenile Law Reform bill – a bill that would change multiple aspects of the current juvenile justice system.

“I’d ask everyone to set aside their preconceived notion on this issue,” Jones said. “Our juvenile system is clearly failing a small set of children who are repeat offenders.”

Under current state law, children under the age of 13 cannot be criminally charged. But newly proposed legislation would expand the jurisdiction of the Department of Juvenile Services to include children under 13 for firearms-related offenses, car thefts, third-degree sexual offenses, and animal abuse.

The bill would also decrease the department’s timeline for making intake decisions, increase the possible length of probation for juveniles, and allow the court to extend probation for multiple unexcused absences from rehabilitation programs.

Supporters of the bill – including multiple State’s Attorney’s from across the state – say this bill addresses public safety while addressing the needs of young people.

“It’s about the rehabilitation of the young people. It’s about keeping our communities safe, but at the end of the day when it comes to young people, they are our children. They’re going to be our children, so we need to ensure that we have the programs available to ensure that we, as adults, put our children on the right path,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates said.

While the bill has garnered much support, those who oppose the bill are concerned more young people will be exposed to the criminal justice system and at risk.

“Locking kids up, keeping them under longer terms of probation, there is no evidence that works. What does work is supporting them with services and addressing the needs that drove them into the system in the first place,” Joshua Rocner of The Sentencing Project said.

While City State’s Attorney Bates says he doesn’t want to see more young people involved in the criminal justice system either, there is a need for more accountability among young people who commit crimes.

“At the end of the day, everybody wants the same thing. We want positive young people. They are our future,” Bates said.  “We need to ensure kids are held accountable and more importantly understand the nature of their actions and have access to any services needed.”

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