Kids and their families aren’t just taking to the streets for candy this Halloween. Many across the state have come together to launch Youth Justice Action Month. We started this month with a press conference on October 2nd emphasizing why children need access to a lawyer when they are interrogated by police.
Henry Parker, a young leader with the Baltimore Algebra Project, said during the press conference, “We should have the same rights to a lawyer or have somebody serious with us when it comes to this type of stuff.”
Teens have reimagined this month for securing safe communities for Maryland children to thrive in. Young activists are calling for the protection of their rights and the pursuit of effective, data-driven solutions that create a safe environment for everyone, especially for kids who are most targeted by police.
Reverend Brian Murray, a leader with Bridge Maryland, said: “It is a reasonable request that an attorney be present for a child before they even open their mouth while in custodial care.”
To name two of the awesome achievements of these young leaders (and their allies): together, we were able to victoriously pass the Child Interrogation Protection Act (CIPA) and the Juvenile Justice Reform Act. The first is all about protecting the due process rights of children, particularly Black and Brown children who the police disproportionately stop, search, arrest, and interrogate every day in Maryland.
Children have a right to a lawyer, like adults, and should not be taken advantage of due to their age. Before CIPA went into effect in 2022, Maryland children were interrogated without an attorney present, without their parents/guardians being properly notified, and without an understanding of their rights.
Delegate Sandy Bartlett, House Judiciary Committee vice chair and sponsor of the Child Interrogation Protection Act, said at the press conference: “The time has come to protect our children. In fact, the time has long passed to stop with false confessions. CIPA is a way to do both.”
Now, Maryland law requires that an attorney be consulted when the police first interrogate a child. Parents or guardians are also legally required to be notified when their child is taken into custody. The only exception is for emergency situations. Even then, the officers’ questions are solely supposed to focus on the safety of the child and no questions should be designed incriminate the child.
The second act the young activists are championing is the Juvenile Justice Reform Act. It is a set of reforms meant to decrease the criminalization of children with non-violent offenses and prevent them from being drawn deeper into the juvenile justice system.
Ultimately, the most effective way to keep children safe and help them thrive is to ensure that the environment they are growing up in is thriving. We must create a system of treating and rehabilitating our most vulnerable children, even those who may have committed violent crimes. Exposure to violence can lead children to make dangerous choices.
Still, children are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators of violent crime, according to 2023 data from Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. Our policies must not trap children and teens in cycles of violence which they will not escape from even as adults.
Let’s move the conversation from harsh, counter-productive policies meant to punish and fearmonger, to approaches that will create thriving environments for children, where together with young people, we can break the cycle of violence and harm.
Have a sweet National Youth Justice Action Month this October!