ANNAPOLIS – Maryland lawmakers were urged Wednesday to make sure that youths who are convicted as adults cannot be tried as juveniles again if they are charged with subsequent crimes.
The “Once Waived, Always Waived” proposal comes as the number of youths charged as adults in the state has tripled, from 1,093 in 1994 to 2,958 in 1996.
“Juveniles already convicted in criminal courts don’t belong back in the juvenile justice system,” said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in a prepared statement in support of the Juvenile Justice Act of 1998. “This is better, faster justice.”
But opponents said youths are more likely to be assaulted, physically or sexually, in adult prisons and more likely to live a life of crime as a result of their exposure to the adult system.
Heather Ford, of Advocates for Children and Youth, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that juvenile cases need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“If they are convicted for a minor offense, they don’t need to go back to the adult system,” said Ford.
The “Once Waived, Always Waived” proposal is just one of four provisions in the Juvenile Justice Act of 1998 and the only one to draw opposition at Wednesday’s hearing.
The provision is designed to remove the most serious juvenile offenders from youth facilities and shorten lengthy court proceedings to transfer them to the adult criminal system.
Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto de Jesus said the provision would let the department focus on more difficult cases.
“We believe this would preserve resources,” he said.
The bill would also establish a Commission on Juvenile Justice Jurisdiction to examine the surge in the number of youths being charged as adults.
“Maryland has been out in front of the nation in making sure that the most dangerous juveniles are charged as adults,” said Townsend in her statement.
“The commission is needed to take a hard look at the numbers and make sure that the criminal courts are holding them accountable, not just dismissing them or putting them on probation,” said Townsend, who is also chairwoman of the Cabinet Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
James McComb, executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth, said the state should not rush into the “Once Waived, Always Waived” policy. He said that decision should be made after the Commission on Juvenile Justice Jurisdiction is set up and can study the issue more fully.
Another provision would modify confidentiality statutes so police could more easily identify wanted juveniles, especially those who cross county boundaries. It would also enhance police safety by giving them better information about the suspects they are arresting.
Under current law a minor’s police record is confidential and all other reports, documents and warrants related to juveniles must be kept separate from adult records.
The Maryland State Police urged the committee to support the bill. No action was taken by the committee Wednesday.
The final provision of the bill would expand the instances under which the Department of Juvenile Justice could use capital funds to support nonresidential programs for youths.