MYJC Responds to Inaccurate Statements by Law Enforcement, State’s Attorneys and Public Officials About Recent Youth Justice Reforms
BALTIMORE, MD (July 18, 2023) – For months, the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition (MYJC) has read, watched and heard countless dishonest statements about recent youth justice reforms from law enforcement, state’s attorneys, and public officials. We have also witnessed the press’s failure to fact check these statements alongside the public officials’ failure to correct the record. Senator Jill Carter, who has been an unwavering advocate for Maryland’s children and adolescents, stands as the exception to this abdication of leadership.
The attacks on the Child Interrogation Protection Act (CIPA) and the Juvenile Justice Reform Act (JJRA) are part of a coordinated campaign of fear mongering by law enforcement and prosecutors harkening to the “superpredator” era of the 1990s. Scapegoating youth of color did not make our state safer then, nor will it do so now.
MYJC, along with supermajorities of the General Assembly, supported both the CIPA and JJRA, which are critical steps to reforming Maryland’s racist juvenile justice system that fails to provide youth with age appropriate responses and services, and often criminalizes and traumatizes them.
Child Interrogation Protection Act (CIPA) – (2022 – SB53/HB269)
The CIPA ensures the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to children and adolescents. It provides two essential reforms to do so. Law enforcement is required to:
- Make good faith efforts to notify parents or guardians that their child will be subject to interrogation; and
- Ensure a child consults with attorney either retained by their parent or guardian or provided by the Office of the Public Defender prior to being interrogated
The law also encourages Maryland courts to adopt age-appropriate language to ensure children understand their rights, makes sensible exceptions for circumstances in which someone may be in immediate danger, and creates a hotline within the Office of the Public Defender to ensure attorneys are available to kids when law enforcement wants to interrogate them. The CIPA still allows law enforcement to investigate crime – as long as police recognize and protect the rights of kids in age-appropriate ways.
Until the Child Interrogation Act went into effect in October of 2022, children entangled in the justice system were questioned without an attorney present every day in Maryland. Children waive their constitutional rights at a rate of 90 percent (source) and make false confessions at a much higher rate than adults. Nearly all children under 14 who were later exonerated of having committed a crime had falsely confessed (source). Similarly, nearly 60 percent of 14 and 15-year-old children in the same situation gave a false confession.
Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue commented on the need for the CIPA, “The right to counsel is among the most fundamental protections in our constitution – and for good reason. Interrogations are coercive, confusing, and stressful – disproportionately resulting in false confessions especially among children. Police and prosecutors who suggest that they cannot do their jobs if a child consults with a lawyer before being interrogated are not concerned about the integrity of the statements provided, rather they seek to trample the child’s basic constitutional rights purely to secure a conviction.”
The process laid out in the Child Interrogation Protection Act is the bare minimum we must do to protect the constitutional rights of our children, even those accused of a crime.
Yanet Amanuel, Public Policy Director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland explained, “Children already had the right to a lawyer before the new law. That’s nothing new. What’s new is that before 2022, children in Maryland were questioned without an attorney present or an understanding of their rights every day. The Child Interrogation Protection Act simply requires an attorney to be consulted when a child is first interrogated by police. And the law requires a child’s parents/guardians to be notified when the child is taken into custody. This matters because studies clearly show that children waive their Miranda rights at a rate of 90% and make false confessions at a higher rate than adults. And it is the rights of Black and Brown children that are violated the most because of who police target for unnecessary stops and searches that escalate into arrests. In addition, there is an exception in the law for emergency situations, as long as officers’ questions focus on the safety concern and aren’t designed to elicit incriminating evidence from children.”
Juvenile Justice Reform Act (JJRA) – (2022, HB459)
The Juvenile Justice Reform Act (JJRA), also passed in 2022, enacted a series of common-sense reforms for Maryland’s Juvenile Justice System which were overwhelmingly recommended by the Juvenile Justice Reform Council (JJRC) following three years of hearings. An effort similar to the Kirwan Commission that developed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the JJRC was established by bipartisan legislation passed in 2019, sponsored by Senator Bobby Zirkin, and tasked with developing “a framework for reducing juvenile recidivism and increasing public safety,” and making policy recommendations to the General Assembly. These recommendations, almost all of which were approved unanimously by the members of the JJRC, are what law enforcement and prosecutors are criticizing now, even though they were represented on, and in some cases, were members of the JJRC and voted to approve the very same recommendations.
Nothing in the JJRA prevents law enforcement from doing their job or responding to dangerous situations. What the JJRA does do is require that children are given age-appropriate support, which means that law enforcement and prosecutors have to use all of the tools available to them, and can’t simply arrest and charge every child that comes into contact with the legal system. Law enforcement doesn’t have to do this alone. Support is available across the state in the form of the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Social Services, and Local Care Teams. They make our communities safer by keeping young children from being harmed by the justice system and creating opportunities for more restorative justice measures for children while still ensuring that law enforcement can respond to dangerous situations to mitigate immediate danger.
“With the passage of the Juvenile Justice Reform and Child Interrogation Protection Acts, Maryland was highlighted as the most improved state in the country in our 2022 State Ratings Report, improving its past standing as one of the worst child rights violators in the country. These reforms are not radical but the minimum standards necessary to protect the human rights of our children,” commented Emily Virgin, Director of Advocacy and Government Relations at Human Rights for Kids
Speaking on the importance of the JJRA, Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue said “In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ The JJRA was a small step towards recognizing the role of adolescent development and acknowledging that resource deficiencies impact delinquency and youth crime. Returning to the dehumanizing punitive approaches that have failed our children for generations is not the solution. Investing in our children with positive, community-oriented resources and providing families with effective support will more constructively improve public safety.”
Our public officials cannot continue to get away with blatant fear mongering and harmful lies. Youth justice reforms make our communities safer by protecting the rights of our children and by ensuring that children who do make mistakes are given the support they need to take accountability and fully rehabilitate.
The Maryland Youth Justice Coalition is a diverse array of organizations dedicated to preventing children and adolescents from becoming involved in the legal system, upholding the highest standards of care when youth do enter the legal system, and ensuring a platform for system-involved youth and their families to be heard.