A Senate committee postponed voting on Gov. Wes Moore’s juvenile services cabinet pick Monday to allow Republican lawmakers not on the committee time to interview the criminal justice reformer about his research, according to a Senate GOP leader.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Hershey said Republican members of the chamber committees that oversee criminal justice issues wanted a chance to speak with Acting Secretary Vincent Schiraldi about his theories on juvenile justice reform.

“Some of the policies he has tried to implement in New York and written about are extremely controversial,” Hershey, a Republican who represents four Eastern Shore counties, said.

Senators advanced the nominations of other agency heads also tasked with delivering critical state services, including human services, corrections, housing, and the department of the environment, to the full Senate. In addition to Schiraldi, the committee also postponed their vote on Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Woods because he had not had yet met with every Senator on the nominations committee.

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Most appointees breezed through interview questions pitched by lawmakers, including transportation secretary nominee Paul J. Wiedefeld, former head of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and the D.C. Metro.

But for now, Schiraldi will wait. The committee will gather again, possibly as early as midweek, to cast their votes.

During his time at the podium, Schiraldi told the committee he “fell in love” with criminal justice work during his first job as a 22-year-old parent working in a youth rehabilitation program.

“I’m still in love with this work,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of things we can do to help people turn their lives around and that’s why I stand here before you today.”

The policy researcher with more than 40 years of criminal justice reform experience briefly laid out his plans for Maryland. He wants to expand the network of community-based support for youths under supervision and replace idle time for detainees in facilities with constructive activities.

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Schiraldi said he’s committed to finding solutions for violent offenders and connecting youths under age 13 who break the law with services, should those children be referred to his agency. A law passed last year established 13 as the minimum age a child can enter the juvenile system.

He said all of the senators he met with previous to his hearing mentioned these two populations.

“I respect that. I hear that. And I agree with your concerns,” he told senators from the podium.

In addition, he pledged filling vacant positions as one of his top priorities.

Schiraldi comes to Maryland after a high-profile fiasco. The seasoned public official for seven months in 2021 tried but failed to implement reforms at New York City’s infamous Rikers Island jail complex. Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio hired Schiraldi to change the system’s punitive culture and replace the jail with smaller borough-based facilities.

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But corrections officers and their unions were not on board with Schiraldi’s team investigating the high number of use-of-force violations and requiring sick notes from sanctioned doctors. Correctional officers called in sick by the thousands per month, creating increasingly dangerous working conditions. The city and the unions sued each other during Schiraldi’s tenure — the union claiming unsafe working conditions and the city alleging the union condoned an illegal strike.

“I’m really a balls and strikes guy when it comes to discipline,” Schiraldi said. “And I think that was very hard for them to swallow.”

Schiraldi has founded two criminal justice policy institutes, including D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, and has led research at the Columbia Justice Lab.

Schiraldi is a proponent of abolishing youth prisons, banning solitary confinement and raising the eligibility age for juvenile services to 25. He implements evidence-based reforms, he said.

Schiraldi took over D.C.’s dysfunctional juvenile system while it was under a federal consent decree and transformed it into a national model for youth rehabilitation. As director of the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Service, his team created a network of supportive services for youths, including job training and mentoring within their communities. Schiraldi’s plans for Maryland echo his work in D.C.

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“The science says that we can do better in the communities either by diverting the kid completely from being locked up or by supporting them post-release,” he said.

As head of New York City’s probation department, he reduced recidivism because of technical parole violations. And his work inspired statewide legislation.

Nominees still require a confirmation vote from the full Senate.

Last week, the nominations committee sent nine secretaries to the floor of the Senate. The full Senate voted unanimously Monday to advance them.

brenda.wintrode@thebaltimorebanner.com

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch. 

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