In Maryland, if a child is arrested by a police officer for any of a certain set of offenses – commonly called the “excluded offenses” – that child is automatically charged as an adult. This means their case begins in adult criminal court instead of juvenile court.
Spending any appreciable time in the adult system is harmful for a child in a number of ways. The adult criminal corrections system is not designed to be rehabilitative or restorative. Treatment and services are not delivered with children in mind, nor are there educational services for children held in adult facilities. The Department of Juvenile Services currently accepts youth charged adults into its juvenile facilities, but it does so as a departmental policy, not as a matter of law. A child’s privacy is less protected in the adult system than it is in the juvenile system. Recidivism rates are higher for children touched by the adult system than for children served by the juvenile system.
When a case is moved from juvenile court to criminal court, it is called a “waiver.” When a case is moved in the other direction, from criminal court to juvenile court, it is called a “transfer.” Because timetables are generally more rapid in the juvenile system, it takes comparatively less time for a juvenile court to process a waiver than for a criminal court to process a transfer. This means is a case can be quickly moved up to criminal court if necessary, but only slowly down to juvenile court, even when necessary.
For these reasons, we believe cases involving children ought to begin in juvenile court, even if they are later waived to criminal court.