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Study: “Sea of Change” in Juvenile Justice in Maryland

PHOTO: Maryland's approach to dealing with juvenile justice is changing. The number of youth confined has dropped 46-percent. Photo courtesy of the Casey Foundation.
PHOTO: Maryland's approach to dealing with juvenile justice is changing. The number of youth confined has dropped 46-percent. Photo courtesy of the Casey Foundation.
February 27, 2013

BALTIMORE - The "lock 'em up" approach to juvenile crime is becoming a thing of the past - in Maryland and nationally.

A report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that there's been a big drop in the number of youths behind bars. In Maryland, the rate of incarceration was down 46 percent from 1997 to 2010 - and Angela Conyers Johnese, juvenile justice director at Advocates for Children and Youth in Baltimore, expects it to drop more.

The reasons for the decline are many, she said, including fewer juveniles being arrested, some large detention centers being closed, and research showing that imprisoning nonviolent youths isn't effective.

"Also," she said, "there's been an overall push to just better match young people to placement with the services that they need and to keep them in the community."

Pending legislation - Senate Bill 791 - would give judges and the Department of Juvenile Services additional factors to consider when placing youths.

Even with the drop in imprisonment rates in Maryland and the nation, the report notes that the United States still leads the industrialized world in the number of young people locked up.

Conyers Johnese said elected leaders have recognized that young people need tailored treatment such as supervised programs, community service, mental health and substance abuse treatment and behavioral counseling.

"There's been a body of law to push the Department of Juvenile Services and judges and other stakeholders towards what is working well," she said.

More than 1,400 youths were incarcerated in 1997 in Maryland, according to the report, a figure that dropped to 888 in 2010.

The report, “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” is online at aecf.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD