Maryland Lawmakers Advance Juvenile Justice Reforms Amid Differing Views

As the 90-day legislative session concluded, Maryland lawmakers passed juvenile justice legislation that incorporated several elements advocated by prosecutors, though some believe the plan falls short in addressing youth crime concerns.

For months preceding the session, prosecutors, police, and parents had urged lawmakers to take action on juvenile crime. Prosecutors and law enforcement argued that existing juvenile laws hindered their ability to hold young offenders accountable, citing a prior reform that prevented children under 12 from facing non-violent misdemeanor charges, which at the time included vehicle theft.

In the summer of 2023, a surge in vehicle thefts by young individuals raised alarms across Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, and beyond. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore City Democrat, convened off-season hearings and briefings, engaging stakeholders such as the Department of Juvenile Services Secretary, law enforcement agencies, diversion program leaders, and state’s attorneys.

The resulting legislation expanded the Department of Juvenile Services’ jurisdiction over youth aged 10 to 12 accused of vehicle theft, mandated the filing of “child in need of supervision” petitions in such cases, extended probation lengths, required notification when juveniles under supervision commit additional offenses, and established an oversight panel to monitor programs and progress within the Department of Juvenile Services.

However, Rich Gibson, the Howard County State’s Attorney and president of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, expressed concerns about the probation aspect, stating that it does not empower courts to detain youth violating probation terms. “If we aren’t seeing evidence of change, we have to have the ability to ratchet up to the needs of that child and the goal is to reform that kid before they become an adult,” he said, adding that the plan fails to address child interrogation concerns raised by prosecutors and police.

Political analyst John Dedie attributed a sense of urgency to act to the pressure exerted by vocal stakeholders before the session began, noting that prosecutors “are the ones where the rubber meets the road” in handling youth crimes.

As the legislation awaits Governor Wes Moore’s signature, he acknowledged the need for accountability for both youth offenders and the systems involved, stating, “I think that the package that’s been pulled together that we’ve now worked with both sides of the aisle, is something that focuses on accountability and I think it’s something that will continue to work to make our communities safer.”

If signed into law, most changes outlined in the bill will take effect on November 1.