Maryland’s Juvenile Justice Czar Faces Scrutiny & evades questions

Questions are arising concerning the philosophies and stances of Governor Wes Moore’s juvenile justice chief, Vincent Schiraldi, after he evaded inquiries during a book promotional event in Massachusetts last week.

Schiraldi, who serves as Maryland’s Secretary of Juvenile Services, made an appearance at Harvard Law School on Friday for a book tour hosted by Nancy Gertner, a senior lecturer there. This event presented a pivotal chance to gain deeper insight into one of Maryland’s most powerful government officials. Following two delays totaling over half an hour, Gertner introduced her two-person panel to eight Harvard law students who had filtered into the sizeable basement lecture hall. Joining Schiraldi on the panel was an individual whom Gertner had previously sentenced when she served as a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Massachusetts.

Gertner, a retired federal judge appointed by former President Bill Clinton, instructed Schiraldi to commence the panel discussion.

“Just one thing before I begin, I will be discussing some disturbing topics,” Schiraldi stated. “So, be forewarned that this may trigger some sensitivities.”

Schiraldi recounted his tenure running state criminal justice agencies in Washington D.C. and New York City, but neglected to explain how he assumed his current role in Maryland’s government. Describing how he initially secured the position overseeing D.C.’s juvenile services, he claimed surprise at ultimately being chosen.

“I made numerous TV appearances and engaged in debates with politicians,” Schiraldi recounted. “For part of that time I was living in D.C. and was very critical of the juvenile system there.”

“And surprisingly, the mayor offered me the job to run it,” Schiraldi alleged.

After admitting knowledge of his D.C. staff’s unlawful conduct, including physical abuse of children, sexual misconduct and drug trafficking, he stated “when I was done with that, I was done.” He later received a call from New York City.

“Mayor Bloomberg’s administration recruited me out of the blue to run the probation department. I didn’t even apply,” Schiraldi said.

Despite indicating he ultimately learned on the job in New York City through “going around, shaking hands, sitting at people’s desks,” Schiraldi claimed Bloomberg inquired during his interview about his thoughts on the city’s probation and parole systems.

“I said ‘ah, not too much,’” Schiraldi recounted. “It’s a poor service provided to poor people.”

Schiraldi then informed the students he advocated to Bloomberg for winding down the city’s probation and parole operations and reinvesting that funding into community-based programs. After sharing a few more anecdotes, Schiraldi redirected the discussion to his fellow panelists before concluding the lecture by summarizing his book’s central thesis.

“I’d like to see us take bolder action,” Schiraldi stated, “Particularly reinvesting the savings into communities where I believe the evidence truly supports doing so.”

“I think we need to reconceptualize this as a supportive function in a way I am highly skeptical we will ever actually do. That’s why I’ve toyed with the idea of abolition, because I don’t foresee us properly reforming the system,” Schiraldi said.

Training materials were obtained on Monday that had been provided to over 30 senior staffers at the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS). These materials stemmed from a controversial high-dollar contract awarded to Phyllis Becker, who serves on the board of directors alongside Schiraldi for the prison abolition group Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice (YCLJ). Records show Becker collaborated with Schiraldi and DJS’s assistant secretary Marc Schindler on two executive agency training sessions in November and March as part of this contract.

The November slideshow outlined a three-step process dubbed “shifting away from a youth prison model.” One slide illustrated shifting the state’s juvenile services agency away from a correctional or punitive approach toward one purportedly driven by communities, families and youths themselves.

Another slide advocated for less supervision and more skills-building and service components at DJS. The next slide proposed changing the department’s language from “behavioral compliance” to “internalized change.” After witnessing Schiraldi’s management of the Department of Corrections in New York City, Councilman Robert Holden of Queens deemed the Harvard lecture and uncovered DJS training materials a top concern for Marylanders.

“The State of Maryland needs to wake up – Vincent Schiraldi is no public servant; he’s a zealot opposed to public safety who is obsessed with shuttering jails and allowing criminals to roam free,” Councilman Holden asserted.

“Governor Moore needs to step in and remove him before Marylanders continue suffering the consequences,” Holden added. Following Friday’s Harvard lecture, attempts were made to query Schiraldi on several outstanding questions regarding his stances, including his views on recent revisions to the state’s juvenile accountability statutes.

After concealing himself for over 45 minutes inside the lecture hall with the event moderator, Schiraldi failed to emerge and address the inquiries despite an unrelated class having taken over the space. Gertner ultimately exited the classroom to engage instead.

“He will speak to you at an appropriate time, but not in Harvard’s hallways,” Gertner stated. In a statement, DJS spokesperson Eric Solomon indicated the obtained training documents center on “system transformation” and adhere to best practices for reducing recidivism and enhancing public safety.

Solomon also defended Schiraldi’s newly launched Thrive Academy initiative, asserting it does not replace detention. “There is no single solution to tackling Maryland’s public safety issues,” Solomon said.

Contributions to this article are from Fox45 Project Baltimore.