Last month, 17-year-old Lamont Davis, was arrested and charged in the shooting of 5-year-old Raven Wyatt, who was hit by an errant bullet in a fight between two teens. Davis was wearing a home monitoring device when he was arrested and charged with the shooting.
The July 2nd shooting of Raven Wyatt is a tragedy. All of our children, families, and neighborhoods should be safe. The response to this tragedy should be an intense examination of the juvenile justice system and what works best to rehabilitate young people under the system’s care and to ultimately achieve better public safety.
Family and community-centered services reduce juvenile delinquency far more effectively than the current reliance on institutions. Across the country, reductions in the use of facilities and diversion to appropriate community services and alternatives have been associated with reductions in crime rates. Baltimore City, like many localities, has diverted more youth from detention, but at the same time the crime rate has plummeted by 33 percent since 2000.
The majority of youth in Maryland’s juvenile system are non-violent and would respond well to community-based services. If community alternatives and treatment ceased, juvenile correctional facilities would become packed with our state’s youth. Locking up youth would do more harm than good. Research shows that incarcerated youth are far more likely to engage in more serious crimes in the future.
Funding cuts derailed what may have been a successful outcome for Lamont Davis who reportedly was arrested 15 times since age 10. And although useful, an ankle bracelet is not a substitute for services, it is a tool. This young man with a vast number of arrests needed more than a GPS system. In order to get back on track, youth need appropriate rehabilitative services based on their individual circumstances and with a continuum of care.
When a case does arise where a youth is alleged to have committed a violent act, the system must decide his/her fate. Some violent, repeat offenders may need to be locked up, but we must make sure that every child gets the opportunity to be rehabilitated, not just attached to an electronic box. Investments in youth and communities early on build strong communities and improve public safety in the long-term. Let’s use this tragedy to guide our funding priorities and avoid making the same mistakes in the future.