|For Immediate Release: Contact: Angela Conyers Johnese, email@example.com 410-698-5187
Date: April 10, 2012
Advocates Optimistic about Improving Course for System-Involved Youth
Youth justice advocates are optimistic following the conclusion of Maryland’s 2012 General Assembly and believe that key steps were taken to improve the course for system-involved youth. “During the interim, we will review what passed and did not pass, see what studies are promised, prepare for implementation of successful legislation, and start planning for next year,” says Angela Conyers Johnese, Juvenile Justice Director of Advocates for Children and Youth, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for the needs of the State’s children and families in the community, the media, and the public policy arena.
ACY supported several juvenile justice bills, including House Bill 978, a measure narrowly defeated in the House Judiciary Committee that would have limited the use of secure detention for children under age 14. The move would have put Maryland in the national forefront of juvenile justice reform and would have kept about 250 pre-adolescents out of detention each year. Only one other jurisdiction, Santa Clara County, California has a similar measure in place. HB 978 was linked to efforts to reduce the detention population in Department of Juvenile Services’(DJS) detention facilities so that youth who are tried as adults and held in adult jails can be moved into juvenile facilities. Citing the dangers of housing youth in adult jails, other states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, and local jurisdictions across the country are passing laws and taking steps to remove youth from adult jails and prisons.
In another effort to reduce the detention population, DJS led efforts to modify laws so that the Department has more control over where youth in its custody are placed. Senate Bill 245, initially opposed by many advocates, including ACY, who viewed the bill as a move to decrease judges’ roles in juvenile proceedings, was amended and passed in a form that was agreeable to all stakeholders. The role of the juvenile court judge was left intact, while giving DJS more authority to make placement and treatment decisions.
Advocates defeated efforts to amend a law that would have removed the size restriction of DJS-run treatment facilities; the limit is now 48 beds. Also, advocates were successful in pushing for data collection and other reporting that will help DJS and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services better serve the youth in their custody, and improve public safety.
“We certainly have more work to do, but based on the juvenile reform bills that passed this Session and the positive debate around the bills that almost passed, I’m hopeful that we are moving in the right direction,” remarked Terry Hickey, Executive Director of Community Law in Action, a Baltimore non-profit that creates interactive educational and community-based initiatives to engage young people as advocates and active citizens.
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Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY) was founded in 1987 by a group of prominent child advocates in Maryland who saw the need for an independent organization to advocate for the needs of the state's children and families in the community, the media and the public policy arena. ACY's mission has remained unchanged since its founding: to identify problems, promote policies and programs that improve results for Maryland children in measurable and meaningful ways, and evaluate the effectiveness of programs and policies for the state's children and youth.