Maryland plan to curb juvenile crime stirs debate

Is crime committed by young people getting out of hand? Top prosecutors in Maryland say that it is — and argued their case before the General Assembly in Annapolis on Thursday.

Lawmakers, advocates and others testified about recently introduced bill to address juvenile crime.

Gov. Wes Moore and House and Senate leaders unveiled a new crime bill last week called the Accountability Rehabilitation and Collaboration Act (ARC) that increases the state’s ability to prosecute children under the age of 13 for violent crimes. It would also expand the Department of Juvenile Services and make it easier for police to look into a juvenile’s criminal history.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said this is a balanced approach to address the issue. He cited multiple crime statistics that have increased year-over-year, including a 20% increase in gun crimes, 200% increase in auto thefts and an over 85% increase in carjackings.

In Montgomery County, the number of young people who have bee shot has also increased, McCarthy said.

“Last year we had 96 that were seriously physically injured,” McCarthy said. “That’s just in Montgomery County. In the area of carjackings, we don’t solve every carjacking in Montgomery County. But in the cases where we actually made arrests, 70% of the kids arrested for carjackings in Montgomery County are juveniles.”

Currently, only legally designated crimes of violence committed by juveniles can be prosecuted. If the law changes, however, auto thefts, sexual assaults, firearm offenses and animal abuse could also be prosecuted for children as young as 10 years old.

The measure would also punish teenagers who miss drug and mental health treatments and extend probation limits.

The discussion on Thursday lasted more than 6 hours and also included those opposed to the bill. They said it’s a step in the wrong direction.

“The impact of policies that disproportionately impact Black children cannot be divorced from the historical context of systemic racism and discriminatory practices,” said Maryland State Public Defender Natasha Dartigue.

Opponents of the bill also say this would reverse the work of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2022 and not address the root issues such as lack of resources for young people.

“This bill adds to the number of children who will be placed in the juvenile justice system where there is a lack of services,” said public defender Jeremy Zacker.

“To me it doesn’t make sense to add to the burden before the burden is actually solved,” Zacker added. “The types of kids we’re adding to the system are 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds. These are kids in the fourth, fifth and sixth grade.”

A hearing for the Senate version of the bill is expected to take place on Friday.

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Cheyenne Corin

Cheyenne Corin joined the WTOP News team in February 2023. Prior to this role she was a Montgomery County, Maryland, bureau reporter at WDVM/DC News Now.

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