There's no disagreement that juvenile offenders need help, not just for their own sake but also for the well-being of society as a whole. But the question of who decides precisely what that help will be has been a matter of contention between the circuit courts and the Department of Juvenile Services. In simplistic terms, the conflict is between judges, who are accountable for protecting the public from lawbreakers, and the Department of Juvenile Services, which is responsible for administering a budget approved by the governor and the General Assembly.
A new ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals nicely splits the difference by affirming the right of Juvenile Court judges to decide what type of treatment a youthful offender should receive, while leaving to Juvenile Services the decision as to exactly where that treatment will be provided. In effect, the ruling says that judges in three Baltimore cases were wrong to order juvenile offenders to enroll in a private reform school in Pennsylvania over the objections of the department, which was footing the bill. Clearly, this decision was necessary if the department is to have the fiscal flexibility it needs -- especially as it faces a shortfall of about $6 million.