Advocating for change in the juvenile justice system

The Office of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility hosted a “New York Times Talk” focusing on juvenile justice reform in order to encourage Towson students and community members to be civic-minded citizens.

The event, presented by Field Organizer Katie Wall of the Baltimore city-based non-profit Community Law in Action, focused on the CLIA’s “Just Kids” campaign which works towards ending the automatic prosecution of youth as adults in Maryland.

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CLIA Field Organizer Sarah Wall spoke to the Towson community about juvenile justice reform in the Union’s Loch Raven room Feb. 27.

“Our vision as an organization is to see youth as partners to adults,” Wall said. “The youth voice is really critical in influencing community change.”

Wall spoke about her concerns with the 33 offenses in Maryland that result in juveniles being automatically tried as adults, including 1st degree assault.

“We believe that young people, young people being defined as about age 14 to 24, are valued leaders of community change,” said Wall. “They are informed stakeholders who should be valued by decision-makers or legislators in most cases, and they are powerful contributors to social justice.”

Wall argued that charging juveniles as adults is “not effective.” She stated that 60 percent of youth charged as adults have cases dismissed or transferred to juvenile courts; however, the wait time for a transfer hearing could be up to a few months.

“We also know in basically every facet of our lives that young people are different from adults,” Wall said.

Wall informed the audience that the adult justice system doesn’t offer rehabilitation services and accountability, while the juvenile justice system does.

Wall said children are five times more likely to experience sexual abuse, 36 more times likely to commit suicide, and 34 percent more likely to commit crimes again in the adult justice system compared to the juvenile justice system.

“Youth have a capacity to change to a much greater extent than adults do,” Wall said.

Wall is advocating for a bill, SB 833/ HB 1550, that would not try juveniles in court as adults. Wall said her and her team at CLIA has been working to get this bill passed for a few years now. She said this year, however, they have decided to take a “more creative approach.”

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CLIA Field Organizer Sarah Wall advocated for a bill that would charge juveniles in the juvenile justice system.

We are asking the law to make a distinction between three types of young people who are currently all charged in the adult system.

Wall and her team at CLIA are asking for a differentiation of young people who are not principal actors in an offense. Those who are not principle actors would start their cases in the juvenile justice system. The second distinction being asked is the distinction between actually doing the crime, attempting to do so, or conspiring to do so.

Wall is advocating that juveniles who attempt or conspire crimes be tried in the juvenile court.

The third distinction being asked in the bill is actual use versus display of a firearm versus possession of a firearm.

Wall told the audience one way to bring about change is to contact local legislators.

“People don’t realize that contacting your legislators is truly effective,” Wall said. “I heard one statistic that it only takes 10 emails or phone calls or letters for a state legislator to take another look at that bill and ask his legislative director to give him more information on it.”

Towson’s Student Government Association advocated for the juvenile justice reform bill during their Tiger Pride Day in Annapolis the day after Wall’s speech.

Wall and other members of CLIA also tabled in the University Union prior in the week to gain signatures supporting the bill they are trying to get passed to end the automatic prosecution of juveniles in the adult system and to educate them about their campaign.

SGA Director for Civic Engagement Christian Pinero noted that student leaders’ activism work provides a change.

“I met Sarah back in October, we’ve actually been facilitating this conversation for quite a few months,” Pinero said. “She’s done amazing work with what her campaign does and having her chance to come to speak to Towson students and to get petitions and get the signatures that they needed was an amazing thing. So not just the cause issue it provides but having your activism as student leaders on this campus definitely makes a change.”

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