We are members of the Core Alliance of Youth Leaders of Community Law in Action. Many of us have been charged as adults and held at the Baltimore City Detention Center, an adult jail. Kevin was locked up for almost a year when he was 16, sometimes in solitary confinement, only to have his case sent to the juvenile justice system. Natasha wasn’t so lucky—after being locked up for months, she gave into the pressure and pled guilty to the adult charge at age 17. Now she has a criminal record and is having a hard time reenrolling in school.
We do not want this to happen to any more young people in Maryland, so we are working to change policies in Maryland that will end the practice of automatically charging youth as adults and housing them in adult jails. Maryland youth as young as 14 years old, who are charged with one of 33 offenses are automatically put in the adult criminal justice system. These youth have not been found guilty. They are sent into the adult system automatically based only on their age and the charge they are given by the police. When these youth finally have an opportunity to go in front of a judge, almost 70 percent of them are either sent to the juvenile system or have their cases dismissed. This occurs after they have waited in an adult detention center for an average of four months. Daniel’s story below illustrates the negative impact this can have on a young person:
“I was out with friends one night when we witnessed a man getting robbed across the street. The people who robbed him ran. A little while later, the police pulled up with the man who was robbed. He identified me and my friends as the robbers. These words were all it took for the police to arrest and charge us for robbery with a deadly weapon. I sat in adult jail for 6 months before my case was dismissed and I was released. I missed three months of school—I failed my junior year because of that.”
If you want to learn more, please come and see the premiere of our documentary, The Truth About our Youth: Maryland’s Youth in the Criminal Justice System on November 14, 2013 at the Charles Theater at 7 p.m. See the trailer below.