More kids who are arrested in Baltimore are being detained than last year, and a smaller share of juveniles are being released, according to a Police Department report.
These figures come as a series of juvenile justice reforms the Maryland General Assembly passed in 2022 have drawn criticism from prosecutors and police chiefs around the state.
For months, law enforcement officials, most notably Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, have suggested the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services is incorrectly releasing children into their parents’ custody after being arrested, as opposed to holding them in detention. But the arrest report shows the total number of children who are either detained by juvenile services or charged as adults has increased sharply compared to last year.
More children have been arrested this year in Baltimore, 820 as of Nov. 30, almost entirely because of the increase in car thefts — a nonviolent offense that doesn’t require detention. But the share of children being sent home to their parents or someone else is decreasing. Last year, about 58% of kids arrested were released and this year about 51% are being released through the same time period, according to the arrest report.
What’s more, the number of kids arrested in Baltimore who the Department of Juvenile Services is agreeing to detain is also increasing — having more than doubled this year when compared to last, according to the disposition data, which is tracked by DJS.
The data also showed an uptick in the number of youths arrested for first-degree assault and assault and robbery.
Alycia Capozello, deputy district public defender for Baltimore City, said the arrest data shows the reforms did not change how juvenile services treats children accused of violent crimes upon arrest, and that the department is detaining the kids that neighborhoods want held: those accused of robberies and assaults.
“The state’s attorney’s office’s constant position that the Department of Juvenile Services does not consider public safety in detention decisions and releases too many kids accused of violent crime is simply not supported by law enforcement’s own data,” she said.
Capozello advocated for alternatives to detention whenever possible because of the proven negative outcomes for youths and public safety.
Baltimore Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge wrote in an email that these numbers reflect actions taken on cases only after the Department of Juvenile Services has been involved.
Decisions made by juvenile services are supposed to be reviewed by a judge the next court day.
State’s attorney questions data
Published Wednesday, the latest juvenile arrest report comes the same week as a charged town hall in South Baltimore that lawmakers organized after a violent assault and attempted carjacking near Patterson Park was caught on camera. The youth perpetrators were apparently released to their parents, something Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson and others said should not have happened.
“Existing law is clear: They should have been detained and assessed in our juvenile system,” Ferguson and other area lawmakers wrote in an open letter to juvenile services and Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley. The lawmakers called the decision to send the youths home an “operational failure.”
During the meeting, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi told the audience that his department must refer youths accused of violent crimes, gun violations and teens at high risk of reoffending to prosecutors for charging decisions.
Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman James Bentley said the office had not seen the most recent juvenile arrest data report before The Banner shared it, and questioned whether the data was accurate and how “detention” was defined.
The state’s attorney’s office defines detention as someone being held in custody until they see a judge, who then decides what happens.
Bentley pointed to examples of youths who are arrested on suspicion of committing a violent offense, who are then taken to the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center and then released.
“There is clearly a disconnect somewhere,” Bentley wrote in an email. “We will continue to examine the issue as we work with BPD and DJS to ensure better accountability and outcomes for Baltimore youth.”
Juvenile services spokesman Eric Solomon acknowledged that some youths were incorrectly released and said the agency has worked to make sure that was being addressed.
“Once it was brought to the department’s attention that some cases were not being appropriately forwarded for charging decisions, DJS immediately investigated and took appropriate personnel action,” Solomon wrote in an email. “The department continues to evaluate processes to improve efficiency and communication among all of our partners and stakeholders.”
Youth arrests down
Over the last decade, the number of youth arrests has trended down, according to juvenile services, and youth arrests make up only a fraction of total arrests, according to Maryland State Police data. However, a tidal wave of auto thefts and an increase in certain categories of youth crimes has left officials seeking answers to public safety concerns. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials and prosecutors have blamed criminal justice reforms, saying recent changes have prevented them from detaining and interrogating youths and investigating crimes.
Ahead of the legislative session, lawmakers in Annapolis have been hearing from stakeholders about what’s working and what’s not with the state’s youth justice laws.
Del. Luke Clippinger convened a series of meetings as chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, which can initiate changes to criminal code.
The Baltimore City Democrat said that while the arrest data does reflect a rise in violent crime, the numbers also reveal that arrests and detentions of youths suspected of committing violent acts have continued as they should.