Study examines juvenile crime rate

D.C. does better than Maryland while jailing fewer, it finds

October 23, 2001|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

During the 1990s, the District of Columbia and Maryland took starkly different approaches to juvenile crime. The district reduced the number of teens it kept jailed while Maryland increased that number.

The result: Violent crime among juveniles in Washington declined sharply, while Maryland's violent juvenile crime rate dropped far less, according to a study being released today.

The study's findings indicate that Maryland's lock-'em-up approach was mistaken, and should add momentum to a recent shift toward more treatment-oriented approaches to troubled teens, the study's authors said.

"Maryland is taking baby steps in addressing the number of kids detained," said Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Justice Policy Institute in Washington and a co-author of the study. "The report shows you can reduce your detention population and not have a crime wave."

The study found that during the 1990s, Washington reduced its detention rate by 71 percent among juveniles who were awaiting trial or had been found delinquent and were waiting to be placed in a program. At the same time, violent juvenile crime decreased 55 percent.

Maryland, meanwhile, increased its detention population by 3 percent and posted a 15 percent decrease in violent juvenile crime.

"If secure detention really meant something in terms of reducing juvenile crime, we wouldn't see these kinds of numbers," said Marc Soler, president of the Youth Law Center and head of the Building Blocks for Youth initiative, which commissioned the study. "If locking up kids meant less crime, the numbers you see would be just the opposite."

He said Washington moved toward increased community-based treatment options for teens to handle those who otherwise would have been locked in juvenile jails.

For the past couple of years, Maryland has been moving toward policies of jailing fewer teens. For example, teens who are arrested for nonviolent crimes are no longer supposed to be jailed before trial.

Maryland Secretary of Juvenile Justice Bishop L. Robinson has said he plans to close Cheltenham Youth Facility, which would further reduce the number of beds in large facilities. But another large facility - a 144-bed detention center - is scheduled to open next year in Baltimore.

Laura Townsend, a spokeswoman for Robinson's agency, said the report "is speaking about the same types of reforms that the secretary and the Department of Juvenile Justice are highly supportive of and moving toward."

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