Maryland automatically charges youth as adults for certain offenses and detains them in adult jails pretrial, before any finding of guilt. These practices don’t work to reduce crime or rehabilitate youth:
- Youth in adult jails are at greater risk of harm from other inmates and guards, are more likely to be beaten, physically or sexually assaulted, or raped, and are at high risk of suicide.
- Charging youth as adults doesn’t deter or prevent youth crime. Youth charged and prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system often re-offend more often and more violently than youth tried and punished in the juvenile system for equivalent offenses.
- The majority of youth charged as adults ultimately return to the juvenile system or the community, but only after they’ve spent on average 3-6 months in adult jail, exposed to the associated harms and risks.
There’s an alternative that would mitigate these effects. Instead of sending a youth to an adult jail, place him/ her in a juvenile justice facility.
The state need only adopt a (rebuttable) presumption that youth charged as adults are to be detained, where necessary, in juvenile facilities. Maryland wouldn’t be alone should it do so; similar legislation recently passed in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
This new policy would remove youth from a harmful environment and place them under the supervision of trained individuals, with guaranteed access to rehabilitative and educational services. This would save the state money and benefit the youth and the community. Every $1 spent on youth in the juvenile justice system results in at least $3 savings in the correctional and judicial systems!
Public safety wouldn’t be compromised. Youth can be detained, just in a different location. And, the state could seek detention in adult jail for those adjudged to be real threats to the safety of other youth or staff.
My proposal works as part of broader reform efforts. The state needs to implement proven detention reduction practices to create capacity in the juvenile facilities. And, the state needs to halt any plans to construct a new youth jail in Baltimore and invest in alternative projects that ensure access to high-quality youth services.
Maryland’s treatment of youth in the adult system has been under scrutiny for years. Now it has the chance to become a leader in examining and reforming how it treats youth charged with serious crimes. Here’s the first step—pull them out of adult jails now.