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In Focus: A meeting to end 'direct file' in Maryland, and improve public safety

The Juvenile Justice Reform Council agenda for Tuesday includes testimony
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 18:09:03-04

BALTIMORE — This afternoon, the Juvenile Justice Reform Council met to hear from people who have been through the adult court system, when they were under age.

To watch the meeting, click here.

Dwayne Betts, was the first to speak about his experience being charged as an adult.

Since his release, he's gone to Yale Law school and now works as a public defender himself.

"One of the thing I find challenging about this conversation, it's always too brief," Betts said. "It's never the the tangible, deep, reflective thought that might actually move the conversation and change the perspective of legislators in such a way that these policies actually change."

Michael Singleton testified about his experience, being charged as an adult during high school.

Singleton says his record has now been expunged, and he was able to get his charge waived to juvenile court with the help of his father, an attorney.

"It was an overall traumatic experience," he told the council.

The final person to testify from personal experience was Terri Blunt.

Her teenage son is currently serving a six-year sentence, which she says is "traumatic," adding that he doesn't have access to counseling services that would be available in Juvenile Detention Centers.

Marcy Mistrett, of The Sentencing Project, says that a brief spike in crime and damaging imagery in the 1990s is what pushed Maryland to add automatic transfers.

"Adult transfer laws really weren't anchored in research," said Marc Levin, of the Council on Criminal Justice.

More on the Juvenile Justice Reform Council

Jenny Egan, a Juvenile Public Defender in Baltimore City is a member of the legislatively-mandated council.

"The first time I saw a child brought into court in handcuffs, changed how I felt about what I needed to do with a law degree," she says.

The Council - before October 1st - needs to come up with a set of recommendations for the State Legislature to consider.

"The issue of youth charged as adults is one of the defining things in Maryland, Maryland was ranked by Human Rights for Kids as being worst in the nation for how we treat children in the criminal legal system," says Egan.

The state of Maryland sends hundreds of kids to adult court - because of laws created back in the 90s - that required 33 juvenile offenses be sent straight to adult court.

According to both Egan and Senator Jill Carter - more than 80% of those kids are sent to Juvenile courts, found not guilty or sentenced to time served.

Carter is also a member of the Council and says, while many kids eventually come out of adult court in one capacity or another, "for those children that may have been held in the adult status, it could be a year to two years from the time of charging until the ultimate result happens."

And that time is spent in adult prisons.

"So what we are doing is traumatizing children by sending them to adult jails and prisons, and then releasing them, most of them prior to their 21st birthday," says Egan. "If those children were treated in the juvenile system, they would get actual services, they would have access to education, access to vocational training, access to therapy, family therapy, re entry services, all the things that don't exist on the adult side."

At the very end of the meeting, the chair, Glenn Fueston, proposed to add an additional meeting of the council to further discuss the issue.