Baltimore Public Defender's Office Says City Youth Are Being Overcriminalized | WYPR

Baltimore Public Defender's Office Says City Youth Are Being Overcriminalized

May 8, 2015

Police gathered in anticipation of riot control on May 1st.
Credit Talk Radio News Service / Creative Commons

The protests and riot of the last week have focused our attention on the fractured relationship between police and some neighborhoods. The Public Defender's Office in Baltimore says that fracture extends to young people in those neighborhoods. They say a much higher percentage of young people are sent through the juvenile justice system after being arrested in the city than in the rest of the state. At least 49 juveniles were arrested during the riot and shortly after – and a significant percentage of them will enter the juvenile justice system, despite indicators that they should not, says the Public Defender's Office in Baltimore. Christine Burke, a supervising attorney in the Public Defender’s Office who handles juvenile cases joins host Sheilah Kast by phone to talk about it.

We reached out to the the Assistant State’s Attorney in charge of juvenile cases, but did not receive a response. Baltimore Police also did not respond to a request this morning. After contacting the Department of Juvenile Services, they sent us the written statement below:

The Department of Juvenile Services believes that the safety of the youth we serve and the community is by far the most important priority of the agency. On April 27, Baltimore City experienced unprecedented levels of protesting and rioting that triggered a State of Emergency. The Department of Juvenile Services was fully staffed and prepared to process youth in a timely manner. It was unfortunate that with the State of Emergency, the juvenile courts were closed on April 28 and youth could not be processed within the usual 24 hour period. Our assessment tools are to assist the Department in making recommendations to the court, not to mandate our decision. These were special circumstances where vehicular traffic was brought to a halt and the City had a curfew in effect. This tool cannot account for all situations which is why DJS policy builds in an override procedure for exceptional circumstances.

The riot on April 27 was an exceptional time where order within the City was lost. Due to these events, DJS's role in ensuring the public's safety that night outweighed the normal risk factors and the tool was overridden in accordance with policy. For the safety of the parents and the youth, the Department made the decision to hold the young people until a judge could make the ultimate decision to detain or release them. The Department is very happy with the success of such tools as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). We still see a decrease in the amount of youth detained and will continue to build on the positive reforms in the City. Lastly, by law, a youth’s record is confidential and sealed by the court. That is one difference that separates our system from the adult.