WASHINGTON (Oct. 7, 2019) – The FBI recently released their 2018 Crime Report, which showed that both violent and property crime decreased from 2017 to 2018 according to national aggregates. That being said, more can be done to stop instances of violence within our communities. Part of that work entails holding young people who commit violence accountable in a manner that best promotes individual transformation and public safety.

Depending on age, there are over 30 circumstances enumerated in the Maryland code under which youths are to be charged as if they were adults. This practice directly contradicts the well-known legal objectives for children in the justice system: public safety, accountability, and “competency and character development to assist children in becoming responsible and productive members of society.”

In a new policy short, R Street Manager and Resident Fellow of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Emily Mooney argues that instead of automatically charging youths as if they were adults, we should keep these young people in the youth system. Mooney finds that the youth justice system prioritizes rehabilitation, while the adult system harms youth and often hinders rehabilitation. Therefore, charging youths as adults wastes time and resources.

Mooney goes on to recommend that Maryland policymakers consider trimming the list of offenses for which youths are to be automatically charged in the adult system; removing “once an adult, always an adult” statutes; and expanding opportunities for reverse waivers.

Mooney concludes, “treating and punishing youth like adults ignores developmental research so critical to effectively promoting the transformation of youth behavior and the preservation of public safety. It also restricts the ability of juvenile court judges to decide what form of accountability most fits an individual case.”