UPDATE: The story has been updated. The opening sentence now reads:
The Maryland Senate passed legislation Thursday night that would prohibit juveniles convicted of rape and murder from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Yesterday, the Maryland Daily Record published a story, “Md. Senate approves ban on juvenile life without parole,” that included the following dehumanizing language:
The Maryland Senate passed legislation Thursday night that would prohibit murderers and rapists from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if they were juveniles when they killed or raped.
In response, Tara Huffman, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program, sent the following letter to reporter Steve Lash and editor Thomas Baden, Jr. Huffman has not received any response since emailing the letter yesterday afternoon and the offensive language remains in place.
Dear Mr. Lash,
I am writing to express strong disappointment with the language used in your story, “Md. Senate approves ban on juvenile life without parole,” and how you chose to refer to people who were convicted of serious crimes when they were children. The choice of wording is deeply dehumanizing, and arguably gaslighting to the detriment of Black youth in Baltimore and Maryland.
The legislation described, Senate Bill 494, applies not only to children charged with murder or rape, but to any young person sentenced to life in prison. Further, reducing these young people to “murderers and rapists” removes any other aspect of these children’s identity, and ignores the structural racism that was at work when these young people were convicted in the first instance – which is exactly what Senate Bill 494 is designed to correct. A more accurate, less dehumanizing way to refer to those affected by the bill would be “children or youth sentenced to life in prison.”
I respectfully request that you remove the offensive language from the story, post an apology, and refrain from using such language in the future.
Tara Andrews Huffman, J.D.
Director, Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program
Open Society Institute-Baltimore
OSI-Baltimore believes it’s important to recognize and reject language that dehumanizes people and contributes to harmful narratives.