Maryland considers more juvenile justice bills, and they may be included in bigger legislative package

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WTOP's Linh Bui on Maryland considering more juvenile justice bills

As Maryland’s top Democratic leaders continue to assess legislation to tweak the state’s juvenile justice system, all or portions of other juvenile-related bills could be incorporated in the bigger legislative package backed by the governor and key committee chairs.

Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) wants the state Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) to report all shootings that involve juveniles who are under the department’s supervision.

The legislation McCray is sponsoring — Senate Bill 652 — would require the agency to document whether juveniles were involved in fatal and non-fatal shootings, the age of each individual and the jurisdiction where the juvenile resided. The DJS report would be required to describe the process and actions conducted by the department after each incident.

After McCray presented the bill before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday, he said he doesn’t mind if his legislation gets included in the comprehensive Juvenile Law Reform bill.

“I don’t care who gets the credit. It needs to be done,” he said.

McCray said it’s important to know about all youth-involved shootings to help keep young people from retaliating or being retaliated against.

“How we do that is [to ensure] DJS [reaches youth] when they are supposed to,” McCray said.

The agency supports McCray’s legislation, according to a letter dated Wednesday from Karalyn Aanenson, director of legislation, policy, and reform for DJS. The letter states the agency already examines fatalities of youth under its care, but not non-fatal shootings.

The agency recommends that the Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform and Emerging and Best Practices review non-fatal shootings. That commission, established by 2022 juvenile justice reform measures, hasn’t been fully seated and its membership would more than double under this year’s proposed juvenile law labeled Senate Bill 744.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the goal would be to allow McCray’s bill to go through the approval process and then incorporate it into overarching juvenile law measures.

Smith said portions of a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County) could also be included.

Similarities with West’s Senate Bill 636 include the creation of a smaller commission to review and assess the department’s education and treatment programs, make recommendations to improve the department and research evidence-based programs.

West’s bill would assess the costs of the department’s programs over the last five fiscal years.

He said it’s the most important bill he will sponsor during this year’s 90-day session “because of the imperative short- and long-term impact.”

“As we’re all aware by now, both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor [have] signaled their intention to make juvenile justice a top priority this session,” West told the committee. “Regardless of which side one might fall on the policy issues presented by the various juvenile bills pending before us, I think we all agree that it’s absolutely essential that the state of Maryland be in a position to provide effective treatment services to juveniles who have gotten themselves in trouble.”

Another juvenile-related bill being considered separately is Senate Bill 2 sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City). The bill is named after NyKayla Strawder, a 15-year-old girl shot in August 2022 by a 9-year-old boy. The shooting took place in Carter’s district.

The bill was slated to be included into the larger juvenile law package, but some of NyKayla’s family traveled to Annapolis and urged lawmakers to make it a stand-alone bill.

The measure would require a police officer to file a complaint to the department if a child younger than 13 years old commits a crime “that results in the death of a victim.”

In addition, it would make it mandatory for an intake officer with the department to file a Children in Need of Supervision petition. The petition, also known as a CINS, enables law enforcement personnel, social service representatives, educators and residents to fill out a form so a troubled youth and the youth’s family can receive a variety of services.

Those referrals, which are managed by the department, have increased, but referrals are not being made in some jurisdictions.

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