This week I’m making the trip to Washington D.C. for the annual convention of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, as well as their annual Hill Day that coincides with the convention. I’ll be representing the State of Maryland as a representative of Maryland’s Juvenile Grant Planning and Review Council, our State Advisory Group (SAG).
Both the Council and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice exist because of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (the “JJDPA Act”), a law first enacted in 1974 (amended in 2002) to incentivize state governments to follow certain best practices in the care a treatment of youth who enter the justice system.
The Coalition works to get the JJDPA Act reauthorized when necessary, and also serves as a hub for new research and thinking on ways to improve juvenile justice policy. Juvenile justice policy serves as a window into criminal justice policy as a whole, in that the key policy aims deal with applying evidence-based approaches, prevention, reducing race and ethnic disparities, creating community-based programs, recognizing the role of mental health, and improving aftercare and reentry. A big priority in juvenile justice policy is keeping the youth justice system separate from adult courts, jails, and prisons.
I am drawn to this work because I believe that the way we treat our kids in the dawn of their lives determines to a great degree what kind of society we’re going to have. In my view, the juvenile justice system should be flexible enough to be modified and applied to deal with the needs of each individual child. Kids involved in the system ought to have an opportunity to be helped, and not discarded, so they become productive citizens. If we commit to this standard our communities, neighborhoods, and society will benefit. Spending a bunch of money locking kids up does no one any good. By working with this State Advisory Group I am able to contribute to this kind of work and gain a better sense of who is also doing the same while making recommendations to the Governor as to where valuable state resources might be allocated to help facilitate better outcomes for our youth.
The SAG is mandated to meet certain requirements including the four core protections, which are:
- Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders, which requires that juveniles who are not charged with any offense, but who are aliens or alleged to be dependent, neglected or abused, shall not be placed in secure detention/correctional facilities
- Sight and Sound Separation, which states that accused and adjudicated delinquents and non-offending juveniles will not be detained or confined in any institution where they may have contact with adult inmates.
- Removal of Juveniles from Adult Jails and Lockups, which states that juveniles cannot be detained in any adult jail or lockup.
- Reduction of Disproportionate Minority Contact, which includes the over-representation of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system at any point.
Annually, the SAG reviews grant applications from organizations who are working to address any/all of these protections throughout the state via programming and we recommend funding for those programs that are most deserving.
This week I am hoping to meet with peers from across the country who are also engaged in this work and to gain a better understanding of what some of the best practices are in this area as well as glean what innovations are on the offing that might be applied here in Maryland such that still better outcomes might be realized. In April, I wrote about bail reform, and I shared my view that the bail debate is similar to debates on broader criminal justice policy, where evidence-backed, holistic approaches are at odds with the historical status quo. Juvenile justice is certainly one of those areas. It’s long past time for proven strategies to receive more serious attention and action. This will continue to be one of the focuses of my campaign and my legislative agenda as your Senator.