Last week in Baltimore, a woman had stopped her car at a traffic light at the intersection of East Lombard Street and South Patterson Park Avenue. She was suddenly set upon by two suspects who dragged her out of her car, assaulted her violently, and attempted to steal her vehicle. The attack was caught on a security camera and the police were later able to track down and arrest the suspects. They were 12 and 14 years old respectively. The police took the boys to the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center following their arrest. But they didn’t spend the night behind bars. That evening they were back home with their parents. Now both the police and some Maryland legislators have requested an investigation into why suspects like these are almost immediately released no matter how serious their crimes may be.
The Department of Juvenile Services has opened an internal investigation “with the intent of taking appropriate action” after several lawmakers raised concerns about issues that could be contributing to a crime trend involving juvenile suspects committing violent crimes.
In a letter to the Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi and Baltimore Police Chief Richard Worley, the lawmakers drew attention to juvenile violent crime suspects being released shortly after their arrest without explanation. Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen, State Sen. Bill Ferguson, State Del. Luke Clippinger, State Del. Robbyn Lewis, and State Del. Mark Edelson signed the letter.
Under Maryland’s lenient laws, children under the age of 13 cannot be criminally charged with a crime except in the most extraordinary cases. So they couldn’t charge the 12-year-old in the case above, but they could have charged the 14-year-old. And even the younger boy could have been held overnight for processing. But both were immediately released. (The only reason they failed to steal the car was that neither of them knew how to drive a stick shift.)
That’s hardly the only case of concern. The legislators pointed to a sharp uptick in both car thefts and gun crimes involving juveniles in recent years. Few if any are ever seriously prosecuted. But this has been going on for years in Baltimore. Are these officials only just now noticing the problem?
Young people in Baltimore are routinely bailing out of the city’s awful, failing public school system and being courted by the gangs. Then they have access to guns and are ready to embark on a promising career in carjacking. The gangs like using younger teens for this “business” for precisely the reason described above. Even if they are caught, they’ll be back out on the street in less than a day and ready to get back to “work.”
The police have been complaining about this for years. While it’s good to see the legislature finally taking an interest and launching an investigation, there is plenty that could be done right now. The advocates of “bail reform” and emptying the jails need to be cleaned out of the system. The only thing that will capture the attention of these young, aspiring gangbangers is the experience of seeing some of their peers disappearing into prison and not coming back to the neighborhood for years. When a serious disincentive to criminal activity is restored, there will be less crime. And for the ones that are caught, just locking them up won’t be enough. If they don’t have families at home willing to discipline them and instill a work ethic in them, the penal system will have to attempt to fill that void. Juvenile criminals should be put into work/study programs that offer the opportunity for early release. They should then be urged toward public work programs that will allow them to earn a living and avoid going back to jail. Baltimore needs to make a law-abiding life of employment and service more attractive than a life of crime. That’s the only way that major changes will ever take hold.