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Bill would prohibit charging children 13 and younger with crimes

This piece originally appeared on WBAL-TV.

Maryland state lawmakers are considering legislation to prohibit charging a child younger than 13 with a crime.

The legislation does not include violent crimes, like murder, carjacking and rape.

When a young person breaks the law in Maryland, they are forced into a criminal justice system that many say offers few tools to assess their needs or risk of reoffending. And locking kids up is expensive at $400,000 per child per year, according to the Justice Policy Institute.

A juvenile justice reform measure close to passage in the House aims to change that. Under the bill, children younger than 13 who commit nonviolent misdemeanors would not be charged with a crime. Instead, they would be assessed and provided community-based services.

"We think that if we can stop them from coming in and going too deep in the front end, then we can keep them from graduating to bigger crimes on the back end," said the bill's sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Clippinger, a Democrat who represents Baltimore City.

The legislation also acknowledges racial disparities. According to the Department of Juvenile Services, 96% of children housed at the Baltimore City Detention Center are Black. White, Hispanic and other races combined total 4%.

"It seeks to keep those kids out of the formal process for misdemeanors for lower-level crimes, get them services that they need again so they stay out of the processes," Clippinger said.

Republican Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga opposes the bill.

"Juvenile offenders, when they get charged and put on probation, they get services, and these kids need services. So denying kids the opportunity to go to court and have a judge remand them to certain services, services equal a safety plan. It equals help. It's behavior modification," Szeliga said.

Opponents argue the legislation lacks accountability measures.

"The court system brings accountability. If we are telling juveniles that there is an unlimited number of misdemeanors that they can commit, then gang members will use them. They will victimize these kids," Szeliga said.

The Department of Juvenile Services and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender support the bill. State's attorneys are taking a neutral position.

This piece originally appeared on WBAL-TV.



Posted in JPI in the News

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