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ANNAPOLIS - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland applauded the Maryland General Assembly for passing House Bill 916, which establishes that youth with certain minor offenses should not be sent to long-term juvenile facilities. The bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate and 134-5 in the House, will now go to the Governor's desk. It has been projected by the Department of Legislative Services that the law will reduce youth incarceration by up to 20 percent and save the state up to $12 million.
"We are thrilled that Maryland officials adopted this common-sense reform that will keep more youth at home with their families where they belong," said ACLU of Maryland Attorney Sonia Kumar. "By sending fewer youth with minor offenses to juvenile facilities, Maryland is one step closer to ensuring we can rehabilitate all youth in our juvenile justice system and ending the harmful practice of warehousing teens in the adult criminal justice system."
The bill's intent is to reduce Maryland's over-reliance on facilities for youth with minor offenses who do not present public safety concerns and to encourage juvenile officials to provide treatment and services for youth in the community while they live at home with their families.
HB 916 provides that youth whose most serious offense is one of the eight offenses in the bill should not be committed to the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) for out-of-home placement. The legislation contains exceptions for youth with multiple prior offenses, youth who waive the rule, and the exceptional circumstance in which placement is necessary for public safety or the child's welfare. It does not change the judge's ability to place the child with any other agency or to order treatment in the community.
Last year, more than 40 percent of girls and about 25 percent of boys in long-term DJS facilities were there for one of these minor offenses. The offenses, which are all non-violent misdemeanors, are: trespass, disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, theft under $1000, possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, malicious destruction of property, prostitution, use of inhalants, and possession of non-controlled substances.
Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George's) was the bill's lead sponsor in the House. Both the Women's Legislative Caucus and the Legislative Black Caucus endorsed the legislation.
Learn more at the ACLU of Maryland website.