Young Antonio, 12 when his mother turned him in to the police, puts a human face on the dry statistics of the Baltimore Bar Association's 1991 juvenile justice report. It is a face of dire need in a subculture of hopelessness, and the lessons Antonio and his friends have drawn from the slothfulness of law enforcement is that almost nothing happens, no matter what crimes they commit. By the time something does happen, the youths involved have difficulty connecting the dots between the court action and the precipitating criminal incidents.
The adults who run drug trafficking have known that since the early 1980s. That's why kids as young as 12 are out there selling drugs in the first place. Not only do they take less pay. It costs less for lawyers to defend them in Juvenile Court. And the system takes so long gearing up to do anything when the youngsters finally get caught that getting "busted" has little effect on them. Thus, Baltimore is seeing more and more young people recruited into the drug trade, even provided with handguns and bullet-proof vests for the violence that always travels with traffic in illicit drugs.
But there are other lessons to be learned. The first is that excuses will never fix a badly broken system whose leaders "hope" to cut paperwork delays in juvenile cases to "two to three months." Reports of serious charges against a juvenile should go from the police to state Juvenile Services personnel immediately upon arrest. The point cannot be made that society considers juvenile crime a big thing when a young arrestee simply heads on home, unsure when he'll go to court and with no more supervision than his or her parents can give.