Maryland high court orders changes to juvenile detention system amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 10:09 AM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 11:33:24-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Chief Judge of Maryland's highest court on Monday issued a sweeping order on the handling of criminal cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Ellen Barbera, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland first ordered changes to the juvenile system on Monday and to the adult system on Tuesday.

In her juvenile order, Barbera encouraged communication between the courts and juvenile services to "identify detained and committed juveniles for potential release in order to protect the health of at-risk juveniles during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis with careful regard for the safety of victims and communities in general."

Barbera also encouraged judges "to limit detention or commitment, unless necessary to protect the safety of that juvenile respondent or the safety of others."

Before sentencing, judges are now also ordered to consider "whether the juvenile suffers from a pre-existing condition that renders him or her more vulnerable to COVID-19, and whether the juvenile displays COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 and whether the facility in which the juvenile is committed or detained is able to address related medical issues or needs."

Barbera also made mention that some facilities juveniles have been sent to for treatment and education programs may be closed as result of the virus.

The Department of Juvenile Services will now be expected to provide the court of an alternative plan for detention or commitment, and "whether the juvenile has family or a placement resource available to meet basic food, housing, and health needs, including any period of quarantine that may be required."

One of the biggest decisions judges now have to make under the order is whether a juvenile's release poses a risk to the community or themselves, and if those risks outweigh "the risk of harm that continued detention of the juvenile poses to the juvenile, to other detained individuals, to staff, and to the community."

In the case where a judge orders a juvenile to remain detained, Barbera ordered that a new detention review hearing be held at least every 14 days during the virus.

Barbera concluded her order by telling judges to "act expeditiously to issue a ruling or schedule a remote hearing on a request by the Department of Juvenile Services or counsel for the juvenile."

The latest changes come after the high court last week declined a petition filed by the state public defender to release low-level offenders from Maryland’s juvenile facilities.

As of last Friday, six cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, including three juveniles.

As for the adult system, Barbera implemented similar changes including next day bail hearings for warrant or body attachment arrests for minor cases of violation of probation or child support, and contempt matters, along with offenses involving defendants who failed to pay costs or fines, or appear in court.

Both orders can be read below.

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