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New Report: Get-Tough-On-Crime Policies not Working for Youth Charged as Adults

October 4, 2010: BALTIMORE - A new report finds that, in Baltimore, most criminal cases of youth who were automatically charged as adults were either dismissed outright or sent to the juvenile justice system when considered on their individual merits. Nationally, youth who remain in the adult criminal justice system are more likely to be hardened by the experience and re-offend than those who receive rehabilitative services in the juvenile justice system.

As Maryland officials consider spending more than $100 million to build a new jail for Baltimore youth awaiting trial on adult charges, a collaboration of organizations examined the effectiveness of state laws and policies regarding automatically charging youth as adults for certain crimes and found the results do not match the intentions.

The Just Kids Partnership to End the Automatic Prosecution of Youth as Adults, composed of three nonprofit organizations – Public Justice Center, Community Law in Action and United Parents of Incarcerated Children and Youth, spent a year conducting research, including interviewing hundreds of youth and their family members, judges and attorneys. In its new report, “Just Kids:  Baltimore’s Youth in the Adult Criminal Justice System,” the Partnership found that “get-tough-on-crime” policies that put youth into Baltimore’s adult criminal system are not working and are potentially counterproductive.

The report found that nearly 70% of the Baltimore City youth who were charged as adults and awaited their trials at the Baltimore City Detention Center had their cases either sent to the juvenile court system or dismissed.  This suggests that these cases should not have been put automatically into the adult justice system.  Adult criminal justice systems often fail to offer rehabilitative services to youth, which national research shows will result in lower crime rates.  Consequently, youth who are sent to adult jails and prisons are often hardened by the experience and are more likely to commit future— and more violent–crimes.

“The adult system sends these youth back into our communities without the benefit of effective interventions,” said John Nethercut, Public Justice Center’s executive director. “Unfortunately, this makes them more likely to commit future crimes than if they had been kept in the juvenile system. It’s safe to say, then, that Maryland’s current approach is a costly and ineffective choice, which potentially makes our communities less safe.”

This is a problem that the state could have solved over a decade ago. In 2001, a legislatively-appointed commission on juvenile court jurisdiction made a host of reform recommendations. Since then, the state has failed to take any meaningful action on most of them.

For example, despite being admonished by the 2001 commission to do so, the state still collects very little data on the outcomes of its treatment of youth charged as adults.

To fill this void, the Just Kids Partnership followed 135 cases of youth charged as adults in Baltimore City and found:

  • Sixty-eight percent of youth automatically charged as adults were ultimately either sent to the juvenile court system or had their cases dismissed outright;
  • A child is likely to spend almost five months in adult jail before he has a hearing to consider his request to be sent to the juvenile system;
  • Only 10 percent of the youth charged as adults actually are convicted and  serving time in adult prisons, while the rest were placed on probation;
  • As of August 2010, 13 of the 135 cases that began between January and June 2009 have yet to be resolved, meaning the youth have been held in adult jail for over a year without having been convicted of anything and without receiving any rehabilitative services; and
  • National research shows that every $1 spent on older children in the juvenile justice system will result in $3 of savings in the adult criminal justice system.

“Parents of youth who are charged as adults do not understand criminal court procedures and do not know how to help their children,” said Kimberly Armstrong, Executive Director of United Parents of Incarcerated Children and Youth.

Leesa Hatcher’s then 15-year-old son Brian was sent to the Baltimore City adult jail in 2008, where he was confined until March 2010. For nearly two years, the case was continuously postponed and eventually dismissed, but the damage has been done, Hatcher said.

“I missed out on two years of being around my son, and my son lost two years of his childhood,” said Hatcher. “I’m glad he’s home now, but, the sad thing is, jail has turned my son into a monster. He was so humble and helpful with his brother and sister. And he was just a jolly kid. Now he doesn’t even find a reason to smile.”

In addition, the Partnership found that African-American Baltimore City youth – like Brian – are over represented among youth who are charged as adults. This is consistent with national research, which found that, all things being equal, an African-American young person in Maryland is far more likely to be charged and convicted as an adult than his white peer.

“Such inequities are just another indication of how flawed the state’s system is,” said Laura E. Furr, senior director of Youth Justice Initiatives at Community Law in Action, Inc. “Almost ten years ago, a legislatively appointed commission noted the overrepresentation of African-American youth among those who were charged as adults and suggested further study, but nothing has been done.”

To fix the flaws in system, the Partnership suggests that the state, among other things:

  • Stop the unnecessary prosecution of youth in adult court;
  • Stop placing youth in adult jails while awaiting trial and, instead, place them in a juvenile detention facility;
  • Improve case processing, including by reducing court hearing and trial delays;
  • Improve data collection efforts in order to determine the effectiveness of policies and practices regarding youth crime; and
  • Ensure the safety of youth who are convicted as adults and sent to adult prison.

“We recognize that these youth are charged with serious crimes and that public safety concerns are what sent them into adult court. But, research indicates that adult jail do not offer youth the rehabilitative sources many of them need.  We have a duty to pay attention to this research especially as it affects the life trajectories of our youth,” said Diana Morris, director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore, which funded the Just Kids Partnership report.

For the full report and additional information, visit www.justkidsmaryland.org

The Public Justice Center (PJC) is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization founded in Maryland in 1985 that seeks to enforce and expand the rights of people who suffer injustice because of their poverty or discrimination. Community Law In Action, Inc. (CLIA) creates interactive educational and community based initiatives to engage young people as advocates and active citizens. United Parents of Incarcerated Children and Youth (UPICY) provides technical assistance training to parents, caregivers, and professionals in several areas, including advocacy and navigating the juvenile justice system. The three joined together in 2009 to form the Just Kids Partnership to End the Automatic Prosecution of Youth as Adults.  The goals of the Partnership are to: reduce the number of youth who are automatically charged and tried as adults; advocate for policies that transfer fewer youth to the adult criminal justice system; and increase the number of effective community-based programs and practices that serve youth who are accused of serious offenses.

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