– The following article was submitted by Delegates Ryan Nawrocki & Kathy Szeliga (District 7A) and Lauren Arikan (District 7B)-
In the first week of 2023, seven high school students were shot in Baltimore City. Tragically, 16-year-old Deanta Dorsey died. So far this year, six juveniles have lost their lives and another 18 have survived being shot in Baltimore City. A 15-year-old was shot and killed in Baltimore County in January, and another teen was gunned down just outside Towson Square that hosts the Cinemark movie theater last month.
Last year, a Catonsville High School student brought a gun to school and two students were shot in the parking lot. 18-year-old Sean Potter was charged with attempted first-degree murder in February 2022. A few weeks ago, Potter was sentenced to 16 months in jail for his part in the shooting. He pleaded down to misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree assault and possessing a firearm as a minor. The judge had given him credit for time served, meaning he could be released sometime this summer.
This is a prime example of crime being tapered down further and further resulting in criminals being allowed back out on the streets. Imagine the scene, witnesses and school security footage showed the criminals were wearing masks and had guns in the school parking lot. What thankfully ended with two people sustaining injuries, could have easily escalated into a mass shooting at Catonsville High School. The adult (18-years-old) involved in these heinous crimes of bringing a gun to a school that resulted in two people shot, only received 16 months! And the police have yet to arrest any others involved in this school shooting.
Recent changes to Maryland’s juvenile and adult justice systems have eroded any meaningful legal consequences for young offenders, even violent and dangerous ones, offering instead impunity or undue leniency for their crimes. One of these rules allows unelected officials at the Department of Juvenile Services – not judges, prosecutors, or police – to arbitrarily drop all charges before they get to court. This matters because Governor Wes Moore appointed Vincent Schiraldi to lead that department.
Secretary Schiraldi has indicated clearly that he hopes to shutter most youth correctional facilities. He stands by science claiming that brains are not fully developed until the age of 25; hence, he takes the Juvenile Justice Reform of 2022 and other extreme measures in Annapolis and takes them a step further. He has stated publicly that he does not believe that probation and parole work. Is he going to do away with those next?
A bill has been proposed this session that says people under 25 should not be held accountable for crime, even violent crime. HB1180 would remove the ability to charge a criminal under the age of 25 with first degree murder.
This procriminal approach does not make our communities safer. In 2018, Officer Amy Caprio was killed when 4 teenagers, ages 15-17, stole a Jeep and were committing armed robbery in a neighborhood in Perry Hall. One of these criminals intentionally ran over Amy Caprio and killed her. All of those involved were charged with first degree felony murder. If HB1180 passes, three of the four would not be charged with murder.
Meanwhile, the legislature is considering multiple bills that would allow underage children to consent to medications and surgical procedures without their parents’ consent, lower the voting age, and be counseled to change their gender without parental notification. And there are bills to exclude parents from their children’s mental health care. The consequences of these bills are hiding from parents that their children may be entertaining changing their gender, claiming the kids are old enough to make those decisions on their own!
Somehow, much of the crime legislation takes the opposite approach by claiming that young people do not have the brain development to understand the gravity of their actions. When will the conversation begin to value the impact crime has on victims? While many comments are made about preventing recidivism and giving criminals the chance to rehabilitate, the data surrounding the impact of crime on victims is rarely shared. And victims are beginning to show their frustration and a fury is brewing.
Parents and even the students themselves were outraged last month when a 12 year old boy was allegedly sexually assaulting multiple girls at a Valentine’s Dance in Aberdeen and nothing could be done. A law passed last year prohibits charging students under 13 with assault. Protests by students at the middle and high schools have taken place, along with parents circulating petitions expressing their outrage.
We have sponsored legislation that will begin to fix the system. HB698 will reinstate penalties/consequences for youth 11 and over to be heard in juvenile court (not adult court). It’s important to note that juvenile court charges and sentencing are privacy protected and do not carry over into adulthood. This gives youth offenders the ability to get the tools and services they need to rehabilitate their behavior and hopefully not become adult criminals.
This argument to coddle young criminals is flawed. Teens’ brains need consequences to link impulsive behaviors to facts which will lead to changed behaviors. Scientists also point out that teen brains are also very capable of prosocial growth under the right circumstances.
During opportunities for teachable moments, young people need exactly what a consequence does – teaches them to not commit that crime again. Of utmost importance is that government not forget that public safety is its #1 job and standing up for innocent victims when crimes are committed against them. In an effort to curb these anti-social behaviors that victimize others, we are working with our colleagues in Annapolis on bills to get tough on crime, including HB698.