WASHINGTON – The number of Maryland teens tried as adults may be down now, but the state should begin preparing for another large wave of youth offenders committing violent crimes, safety experts said.
Crime rates are cyclical and the youth crime rate will probably increase again by 2005 or 2006, said Kenneth S. Trump, president and chief executive officer of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland.
“I think in terms overall juvenile crime it’s not going to go away,” Trump said. “I would be the first person who would like to see juvenile crime go down and stay down. But we have to be realistic.”
The experts said the juvenile crime rate will likely rise if for no other reason than the number of juveniles in the state is expected to rise.
The Census Bureau predicts that the number of people in Maryland between the ages of 5 and 17 will reach more than 1 million by 2025. And that could have an impact on the youth crime rate, said an American University professor.
“We might expect more crime, simply because we have more juveniles,” said Emilio C. Viano, an AU public affairs professor. “Juveniles are generally associated with crime because of their age.”
Kathleen Block, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Baltimore, said things like the juvenile crime rate “tend to ebb and flow.”
Some jurisdictions in Maryland, like Prince George’s County, refer a smaller number of youths to adult court. But overall Maryland is fitting with the national trend of getting tougher on children, she said.
“I think we waived too many juveniles to the adult court,” Block said. “We’re saying they’re so dangerous we need to be protected from them.”
The violent crime rate for Maryland juveniles was well above the national average in 1997, the latest year for which figures are available from the U.S. Justice Department. It said that there were 739 violent crimes per 100,000 youths between the ages of 10 and 17 in that year, compared to a national rate of 412 crimes per 100,000 youths.
Despite the comparatively high numbers in Maryland, Viano agreed with Block that minors should be sent to adult court in very rare cases.
“I understand some commit very serious crimes,” he said. “But still, it is very hard for us in a civilized society to think they have the maturity of judgement.”