Juvenile Crime Cannot be Ignored or Excused

Annapolis, MD – March 3, 2023 – In a recent survey by Delegates Nawrocki and Szeliga, crime was by and far the top concern for citizens. And juvenile crime tops that category. “We must go back to holding juveniles accountable for their dangerous and illegal behaviors,” said Delegate Szeliga in support of HB698 sponsored by Szeliga. After juvenile justice reform measures passed last year, juveniles under 13 are no longer being held or charged for dangerous crimes frustrating victims and law enforcement over the last 9 months.  The crimes going unreported and unaddressed include gun crimes, carjacking, assault, robbery, rape, and other heinous crimes. 

“Protecting the public and ensuring that children get the help they need to change their delinquent behavior should be the focus of lawmakers today,” said Delegate Nawrocki, a co-sponsor. He continued, “Unfortunately, we are seeing soft-on-crime bills that will excuse criminal behavior instead of protecting future victims.” 

On his national Sunday news program earlier this week, Ted Koppel highlighted crime in Baltimore City.  The juvenile crime crisis is fueled by a lack of consequences.  Koppel spoke with Kurt Palermo, the head of Roca Baltimore, a successful program supporting young men.  In the news segment, Palermo said, “It’s too easy to get a gun in Baltimore.  And I don’t know that the young men that we work with feel that there’s any consequence.” 

Sean Kennedy, a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and policy director for the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, wrote in favor of HB698.  He said, “Delegate Szeliga’s legislation is a necessary step to rebalance Maryland’s criminal justice system toward appropriate accountability, justice, and safety for all offenders – including juveniles.”  Scott Shellenberger, the Baltimore County State’s Attorney, joined Delegate Szeliga on her panel yesterday to testify in favor of HB698.  He was questioned by many legislators during the hearing on his experiences since the Juvenile Justice Reform was passed in 2022.  He made it clear that services offered by the Department of Social Services and CINA (Child in Need of Assistance) are not as robust as what is available through the Juvenile Justice System.  Social workers are not able to hold juveniles and their families accountable if they fail to follow a treatment and behavioral therapy plan.  A judge can ensure juveniles get the services they need.

The argument to coddle young criminals is wrong.  Brain science shows that children’s brains need consequences to link impulsive behaviors to facts which will lead to changed behaviors. During opportunities for teachable moments, young people need exactly what a consequence does – it teaches them to not commit that crime again.  Delegate Lauren Arikan, co-sponsor of HB698 and member of the Judiciary Committee added, “Of utmost importance is that public safety is the government’s number one job.  We must stand up for innocent victims of crime and stop criminals before they victimize others.”