Activists Push MD Bill to Reroute Children from Entering Jail System

Chidi Michaels

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Image via Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ).

Juvenile rights groups all over Maryland have been pressing lawmakers to pass a bill that will present law enforcement with an alternative method to arresting the youth.

Under the Md. House Bill 1187, children under thirteen years of age will be redirected from entering the criminal justice infrastructure, permitting police to avoid charging kids with misdemeanors or non-violent offenses.

Betsy Fox Tolentino – Assistant Secretary of Community Operations at the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services – stated that as an alternative, the youth and their families would be rerouted to community programs as a means to handle possible behavioral issues; Tolentino said redirection aids in lowering the likelihood of children being re-arrested in the future.

"For the young people that we can just sort of address them the minute they come to our attention," said Tolentino. “With maybe some behavioral health services, drug treatment, and keep them from having to go through that formal process. Then we may stop the cycle of offending right away, and provide the supports they need to be successful in their communities."

The bill has passed in both the House and the Senate, and became effective June 1, 2021. The bill requires the Governor to allocate at minimum $2 million in the annual budget bill for a grant to Roca Baltimore, LLC – an organization with the mission of “disrupting incarceration, poverty, and racism by engaging young adults, police, and systems at the center of urban violence in relationships to address trauma, find hope, and drive change”.

Tolentino said that the Reform Council consisted of public defenders, Juvenile Services officials, and national experts in the criminal justice system. After researching youth behavior, she noted that they concluded, for more low-level offenses, the damage of incarceration overshadows any possible advantages.

"So, for those young people who may be engaged in misdemeanor-type offenses, there's lots of other things we can do in the community," Tolentino continued. "We can use electronic monitoring, we can do pretrial supervision, or other interventions that keep the young person and the community safe."

Statistically speaking, youth that are processed through the criminal justice system before eighteen years of age are destined to attaining less educational feats or employment prospects in the future.

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Random citizen with a knack for reporting on my local community, politics, and general discourse. Check out my blog site and find me on twitter @ChidiJMichaels!

Baltimore County, MD
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