A well-timed juvenile crime report the Department of Juvenile Services released Tuesday revealed that crime committed by teens over the last decade continues to decline, including most categories of violent juvenile crime.
The report’s release came a day before a House of Delegates Judiciary Committee hearing, a first in what is expected to be a series of meetings, in which lawmakers will weigh these numbers and recent juvenile reforms against a wave of gun violence against teens and a spike in teens stealing cars.
Much of the data in the DJS report is not new, nor are the stark racial disparities heaped on Black youths reflected in a punitive system. But certain high-profile crimes involving youth have led to questions about the juvenile system’s forward momentum, and prompted the state’s juvenile services agency and its leader, Vincent Schiraldi, to launch a pre-meeting data campaign.
David Jaros, law professor at the University of Baltimore and faculty director at the Center for Criminal Justice Reform, said the agency’s pointed data summary “explodes the myth that the criminal justice reforms of the last couple of years have made the public less safe.”
Because whether trends have moved up or down, they mirror national patterns, and recent Maryland juvenile justice reforms cannot be blamed for novel upticks in any one category, he said.
“Moreover, there should be less blame to go around because there has not been the explosive rise of juvenile crime, despite what one might think — given what we see in the media,” Jaros said.
One area of legitimate concern to Jaros was the increase in gun violence against teens and the increase in homicides. “But even there, it’s clear that what’s happening in Maryland is being mirrored across the country,” he said.
Here are some questions answered by the data.
What are the violent juvenile crime trends?
The overall share of arrests of juveniles, 7%, is far less than arrests of adults and roughly equal to the percentage of the U.S. population aged 12-17, according to federal data. That also goes for the number of arrests on murder charges, 93% of which are adults.
For the most part, state data mirrors national trends, and shows a steady decline in youth arrests for violent crime over roughly the last two decades.
Violent crime arrests of Maryland juveniles between 2020 to 2023 are down overall, but arrests for certain types of violent crimes have skyrocketed. Handgun violations surged by nearly 220% and carjackings, taking control of a car by force, rose 85%.
Teen arrests on murder or attempted murder charges in Baltimore City have increased over the last five years, while fluctuating in other parts of the state, according to DJS.
The data showed a spike in nonfatal shootings and homicides of teens across the state and those under the care of DJS, two distinct groups. Teens of color represent nine out of every 10 fatal and nonfatal shooting victims, according to state data.
The number of nonfatal shootings of youth under 18 between 2018 and 2022 increased 175%, according to the Maryland State Police; 171 Maryland youths were shot in 2022. And the number of youth homicide victims is up 88% since 2018.
Why is there a proliferation of teen gun possession?
Since January, dozens of teens have been shot or have shot someone while under DJS’ care. In 2022, 25 youths were victims of nonfatal shootings and five were shot and killed while under supervision, according to the data.
Teens say they are carrying guns to protect themselves to feel safe around other armed teens. However, the very act of carrying a gun can increase the likelihood of being victimized by gun violence, according to a summary of research compiled by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.
What about youths charged as adults?
Across the country and throughout Maryland, reforms have moved away from charging youth as adults and incarcerating youth in adult prisons. Numerous studies have revealed negative health and socioeconomic outcomes.
Current Maryland law requires teens charged with committing or attempting certain violent crimes, such as murder, first-degree assault, first-degree rape, armed robbery, firearm offenses and others, to be charged as adults.
Online state data revealed Black teens are charged as adults far more than their white counterparts. In the last half of 2022, of the 396 juveniles charged as adults, about 81%, or 320, were Black youths.
However, 87% of youth with adult charges, have their cases remanded to the juvenile system, dismissed or disposed as time served, according to an analysis by the Vera Institute done in 2010.
How can officials address delinquent behavior in children under 13?
In 2022, Maryland set the minimum age for charging children criminally to 13 in most cases, banned incarceration for minor offenses and instituted time limits for how long a young person can be on probation.
However, prosecutors, law enforcement and educators can still connect vulnerable children involved in delinquent behavior with state-sponsored services by filing a “child in need of supervision” referral. And agency efforts to educate stakeholders have yielded noticeable results.
Between June 2022 and March 2023, the number of “children in need of supervision” referrals nearly quadrupled from that same time period one year earlier. But, the number of rearrests of those under 13 dropped to one-third of what it was the prior year.
How have auto thefts affected the numbers?
The trend appeared here in Maryland, and DJS blamed the “Kia challenge” effect for a 70% increase in nonviolent juvenile referrals. DJS saw the number of auto theft offenses more than double — 1,193 youths were referred to DJS related to those offenses in 2023, compared to 545 in 2022.
How does the cost of incarcerating youth compare to services?
Maryland spends $414,929 on incarceration per child per year, more than $1,100 a day. That’s according to a 2020 Justice Policy Institute study. The criminal justice think tank ranked Maryland as the fifth-highest spender in the country when it comes to annual juvenile confinement costs. The average among the states’ per child cost was around $214,000, or $588 a day.
Over the last 20 years, as youth incarceration has steadily declined, so too has youth crime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. If incarcerating youth reduced youth crime, the numbers don’t show it.
Maryland’s last 10 years of data mirror national numbers. As the state has adopted a rehabilitative treatment approach to juvenile services, the system has confined fewer teens each year over the last decade, and instead diverted teens to community-based support services. Since then, the number of criminal complaints against youth has dropped by 61%.
This same Justice Policy Institute report found a drastic difference between the average national per day cost of incarcerating a teen, $588, and the lowest cost of community-based wraparound services, around $75 a day.