Juvenile Crime Judge gives up: City's nonchalance prompts a juvenile court judge to transfer

September 20, 1995

JUDGE DAVID B. Mitchell spent more than 10 years hearing juvenile cases in Baltimore before asking for relief. A lesser person might not have lasted 10 months. It's a thankless job where most decisions leave someone unhappy. On top of that, Judge Mitchell could never get the full support of city government. The Schmoke administration apparently has limited court improvements in order to make a better case in Annapolis that the city can't afford to run its own courts.

Juvenile cases are heard in several first-floor rooms of the Clarence B. Mitchell Courthouse. The hallway serves as a huge waiting area. It is dark. It is dirty. It is noisy. It stinks. Innocent babies at the center of custody disputes cry as public defenders shout out the names of teen-thug clients they don't know from Adam. Plea options are discussed in dank corners where conversations pretend to be private.

It doesn't have to be that way. Judge Mitchell says the state more than three years ago agreed to fund a $35 million juvenile detention center in Baltimore that would include a juvenile court. But city officials have not been willing to spend the political capital to get a neighborhood to accept such a facility in its midst.

The court has since suggested that the city at least provide a central intake facility for arrested juveniles. Perfect would be the basement of the Mitchell Courthouse, which now houses the city's civil service and Bureau of Purchases offices. The state has agreed to build cells in the basement. But the city hasn't budged to make it happen. It makes no sense.

The number of children abused and neglected tripled to 3 million between 1980 and 1992. Arrests of children ages 10 through 17 who committed violent crimes increased 100 percent between 1983 and 1992. Juvenile arrests nationally are expected to double in the next 15 years. Yet the city ignores its juvenile court.

Judge Mitchell says that after continued failures to get the city to act, he had to ask himself, "Am I stupid or what?" He has transferred to adult court. Meanwhile, the city's ignored juvenile court system continues to serve the public poorly. That has to change, and soon.

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