Released juveniles rack up charges

City police prepare analysis, call for immediate reform

`We're doing our part,' Clark says

27 teens in state system accounted for 157 charges

September 22, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's chronic juvenile offenders regularly churn through the state's justice system without receiving adequate help, city police officials concluded yesterday as they released a new analysis intended to spark immediate reform.

One 17-year-old was arrested on an auto theft charge, immediately released by state juvenile justice officials pending trial, arrested a month later on a drug distribution charge, let go again, arrested six days later on a drug charge and released yet again.

Less than a week later, he was arrested on a drug distribution charge, detained briefly, released by the court, arrested the next month on a drug charge and immediately let go again by juvenile justice officials.

That teenager was one of 27 juvenile offenders charged in Baltimore with five or more crimes in the first half of this year. Their criminal records - totaling 157 charges, including 110 felonies - were analyzed by city officials for the study.

"We're doing our part in the criminal justice relay," said police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark. "Where is the baton being dropped?

"There is no sense [among juveniles] that there are going to be any consequences for their actions," he said.

At the heart of the debate is whether more juvenile suspects should be detained. The police commissioner has argued for that approach. The system's chief judge and juvenile services officials have said they operate within a system that stresses rehabilitation over punishment.

The study's release follows Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s statement last week that police are contributing to crowding at the new Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center by making sweeps of arrests for petty crimes. Police officials said that's not true because the state determines whether arrested juveniles are detained or released.

The state Department of Juvenile Services has also been criticized recently after an independent report found the city Juvenile Justice Center was so understaffed it was unsafe.

Juvenile Services Area Director James T. McClafferty said yesterday that he has seen only a draft of the police report and has been discussing it in formal meetings with the other key officials in the juvenile justice system. He said he wants to continue collaborating to address any problems.

"I'm not prepared to say the baton is dropped," he said.

Report author James H. Green, the special projects director for the Police Department, acknowledged some progress is being made. But he said it is not being made at the pace public safety demands.

`Chronic offenders'

Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch, who is in charge of the city's juvenile courts, said that because the study is of frequent offenders, it highlights only children who weren't successfully rehabilitated.

"We've got to be careful not to paint the entire system as flawed just because we have this very small group of chronic offenders," he said.

The study examined chronic offenders arrested in the city this year through June 30. Since then, the number of juveniles arrested on five or more charges has grown to 76 - who account for 432 charges, police said.

Saying they want to prevent such offenders from being cycled in and out of the system, police officials made recommendations that accompany the study. They include stricter standards for detaining suspects. They have also highlighted several areas where, they say, segments of the juvenile justice system are not communicating properly.

They pointed to the link between probation officers and judges as an example - a conclusion McClafferty contests.

27 juveniles

The documents released to The Sun contain few written comments and instead offer confidentiality-protected versions of the 27 juveniles' records.

One of the juvenile records matches that of Earl Rodney Monroe Jr., a 15-year-old whose record was detailed last month in The Sun. He was arrested 11 times in 15 months before he was fatally shot in the head. His killing came four days after the courts had ordered his electronic monitoring device removed because he was doing well.

As of last month, all 13 city homicide victims this year between ages 11 and 18 had criminal records.

When youths are arrested in Baltimore, police take them to the city Juvenile Justice Center. Juvenile justice workers refer serious charges to prosecutors and, for those cases, the workers must decide whether to release offenders before their first court appearances.

Detaining children or placing them on community detention forces them to appear in court the next day. Releasing them can postpone the case for weeks, though state officials have taken several steps to speed the process.

Release or detain?

In deciding whether to release or detain, the Department of Juvenile Services this year began using a system - known as the RAI, or Risk Assessment Instrument - that weighs severity of offense, recidivism and other factors.

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