Tensions boiled over between state agencies Monday night during a Baltimore town hall on youth justice issues and public safety, putting on display some of the dysfunction in an already embattled system.
The meeting intended by lawmakers to educate constituents and hear their concerns amid an uptick in certain types of youth crime included periodic clashes between two panelists: Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi and Cate Rosenblatt, juvenile deputy division chief for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
The pair at times disputed each other’s data and bickered about confusing and complex internal processes and specific high-profile cases involving teens caught with guns, turning the community forum on an emotional public safety issue into a debate.
Baltimore state Del. Luke Clippinger, who has been examining the juvenile laws ahead of the legislative session and co-hosted the meeting, said the dynamic has been a barrier to progress.
“It’s not just a legislative solution,” Clippinger said in his opening remarks. “This has become a problem — a bigger and bigger problem — because this issue involves different agencies that simply do not talk to each other. Or when they do talk to each other. They try to talk to each other as little as possible and move on.”
Rosenblatt said current processes make juvenile services a gatekeeper, delaying cases or barring her office from being involved earlier in the process.
“DJS doesn’t charge cases, but they can prevent or delay the State’s Attorney’s Office from charging,” she said. The juvenile division chief said that in cases involving motor vehicle theft and guns, her office would like to be involved within 24 hours after an arrest.
Rosenblatt also questioned actions she said juvenile services had taken in certain violent felonies, and said she’s seen kids released by juvenile services after being caught for a handgun possession.
Schiraldi corrected her stating that law requires juvenile services to detain youths who commit violent crimes.
“There are differences of opinion up here,” he said, referring to himself and Rosenblatt. “There are also some differences of facts.”
Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Monique Brown sat between Schiraldi and Rosenblatt. She said, “At BPD, we are here as a partner to come together to have honest and open discussions, again, recommit ourselves to continued collaboration to ensure better outcomes for all involved,” and supported adopting national best practices when it comes to handling youth justice issues.
The presentations did not appear to allay the worries of residents who came to be heard and hear solutions.
“It’s very counterproductive for our leaders to be pointing fingers,” said Maurice Good. Good said he’s been a youth advocate for 30 years both in Baltimore and New York and supports positive youth programming.
Others in attendance called for more of a focus on victims and shared personal anecdotes of crimes committed against loved ones.
Krystal Gonzalez, mother of Aaliyah Gonzalez, one of two young people killed during a July mass shooting in Brooklyn, called out flaws in the system and urged the state to intervene earlier in the lives of wayward youths. She said there needs to be more intervention in the schools and systemwide gun prevention education.
Otterbein resident David Safier, 76, said before the event he hoped to hear more of the approach to youth justice he’s heard before from Senate President Bill Ferguson.
The retired school teacher said he still feels connected to young people and would “hate to see them screwed over by a system, or brought into the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Julie Hutton, of Highlandtown, said she favored Schiraldi’s approach to juvenile justice over Rosenblatt’s, taking issue with Rosenblatt’s anecdote that she’s seen some young people benefit from detention because it’s the first time they have received needed attention. Hutton, a child welfare expert, also appreciated that lawmakers affirmed the need for youth voices at the table.
Despite disagreements, agency leaders did yield common ground. All said they wanted to work together to fix the problem. They agreed detention is harmful for children but is sometimes necessary. They want to swiftly deliver community-based services, such as anger management, mentoring and behavioral therapy, to youths who need them. And they all prioritized public safety for the communities and for at-risk teenagers.
“You might not know it from today, but we actually do work together with one another quite a bit. And most of that is super productive,” Schiraldi said in closing.
Lawmakers planned the town hall after a violent assault and attempted carjacking of one of their constituents was caught on camera. In a public letter, officials who represent areas surrounding the Inner Harbor called for oversight and accountability and criticized juvenile services for telling police to bring the youths home to their parents after cameras allegedly caught them in the act.
“Existing law is clear: They should have been detained and assessed in our juvenile system,” the lawmakers wrote to the agency, and called sending the youths home an “operational failure.”
Overall youth arrests in Maryland have trended down over the last decade, according to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. But a spike in certain types of youth crime, including auto theft, and a widespread public outcry for increased public safety, has left officials grappling for answers.
Police and prosecutors have blamed juvenile laws passed in 2022 that raised the age of jurisdiction, diverted youths away from detention, and barred law enforcement from interviewing minors without them first calling a lawyer, for the uptick.
Law enforcement have told officials the reforms have weakened the state’s ability to youth accountable, and that they’re repeatedly arresting the same youths. Police say youths who know they won’t face consequences become emboldened.
For children under 13 suspected of committing a crime, the state did create a provision that allows police to connect them with state services. Child In Need of Supervision requests, or CINS referrals, have increased since the reforms have passed and recidivism for this age group has decreased, according to the juvenile services department.
Children 12 and younger were only a fraction of total arrests each year from 2013 through 2022.
Another significant change receiving criticism is a law requiring police to allow youths to talk to an attorney before an interrogation. These consultations between youths and a public defender typically happen over the phone, and law enforcement says defense attorneys almost always advise youths not to talk to them.
Police and prosecutors have said the Child Interrogation Protection Act limits their ability to investigate cases and denies them access to timely information from minors who may have knowledge of a crime. A provision in the law does allow police to waive the legal consultation if they believe public safety is at stake.
The changes were made based on the recommendations of a council charged with studying evidence-based approaches to youth rehabilitation.
The Juvenile Justice Reform Council, which is comprised of law enforcement, state prosecutors, state legislators and youth justice experts, recommended diverting young people toward rehabilitative programs instead of detention and raising the age of jurisdiction to 13, except in cases of some violent crimes.
Amid the concerns, the legislators set to reexamine the laws have already held hearings to ask stakeholders what’s working and what’s not.
Clippinger, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which has the power initiate changes to criminal code, said his committee will look for ways they can make meaningful adjustments. This may include the length of juvenile probation or CINS oversight. Most of the work, however, will remain with the executive branch to fix agency operations, he said.
“You heard from multiple people in the room tonight: They don’t have confidence that a child who comes into that system is going to see anything other than sort of just running through the system over and over again,” Clippinger said.