Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend unveiled yesterday a Glendening administration bill she said would keep "candy-aisle shoplifters from becoming gun-toting carjackers" by providing swifter, surer punishment for young criminals.
At an afternoon news conference, Mrs. Townsend said the legislation was meant to get schools and parents more involved in the early stages of a child's delinquency.
The proposed legislation -- House Bill 407 and Senate Bill 343 -- would establish a two-year pilot project allowing police in Allegany, Prince George's, Somerset and Wicomico counties to write civil "tickets" that would require youths who commit misdemeanors to do community service immediately as an alternative to criminal prosecution.
Broadening the effort statewide would require additional legislation.
Standing next to the lieutenant governor were two teen-agers who Mrs. Townsend said had recently "used some bad judgment" but turned themselves around by becoming interested in the community service they had to perform as punishment.
The bill also attempts to strike down the systemic delays that keep children in trouble from being punished.
It would require police to file complaints against juveniles with the Department of Juvenile Services within 15 days of their arrest. Juvenile advocates have complained for years about months-long delays for Baltimore police paperwork to reach prosecutors, the result being that children often commit more crimes before the first case gets to court.
Courts, in turn, would have to schedule hearings within 23 days of the time the children were placed in detention.
Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, said speeding up juvenile hearings was a laudable goal but couldn't be accomplished unless the city got a long-sought juvenile justice center with better technology and a central location for processing cases. Half of the state's juvenile cases are heard in Baltimore.
"Without centralized intake, there's no way we can comply with that," Judge Kaplan said. "We can't even comply with the present rules."
A Department of Fiscal Services review of the bill noted that speeding up juvenile hearings could cause "a potentially significant increase" in costs to county and city courts.
The review estimated that the community-service pilot project would cost $267,436 next fiscal year, but that the state would save about $133,000 a year because youths would spend less time in detention.
The bill also would double, to $10,000, the amount young people could have to reimburse victims for their crimes. And it would give police the power to tell school superintendents when a child is arrested for a crime involving violence or firearms. State law now prevents such notification, to protect the youngster's privacy.
Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, said yesterday that the bill had safeguards to limit access to such information. She said a child's arrest would not be used as the "sole basis" for suspension of expulsion.
The House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on the bill today.