Program to speed juvenile justice called effective

Fewer youths are being sent to detention centers

June 17, 2005|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A program that speeds up the charging of juvenile offenders in Baltimore and moves them more quickly through the court system is proving effective in holding down the number of youths who are sent to state-run detention facilities, state officials say.

Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. announced yesterday that $260,000 will be used to continue the project, which is run jointly by Montague's department and Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's office.

`Worked very well'

"The objective is to reduce the use of detention," Montague said. "It has worked very well."

The effort began as a pilot project in May 2003. Prosecutors were engaged to review and make on-the-spot decisions about how to charge juveniles.

In many cases, said Carrie Bland, an assistant city state's attorney who oversees the program, that led to the filing of lesser charges than if police and Juvenile Services officials had been making the decisions without the guidance of prosecutors.

Montague said the result has been that youths in such situations score differently on assessments his agency uses to determine placement, and many go on home detention instead of being confined in a state-run facility.

"What we're getting is a more accurate assessment of the charges," he said.

Jessamy said that charging decisions are based on the facts of each case and are not reduced as a way to limit or lower the number of youths held in detention. She said protecting public safety remains the main concern.

Quicker arraignments

The program also gets youths before the courts for arraignment within five days, as opposed to 45 days, Montague said - leading to a 96 percent appearance rate and a sharp drop in the number of writs that have to be issued for youths who fail to appear for court hearings that had been scheduled weeks or months after their arrests.

Carl Sanniti, a deputy secretary at the Department of Juvenile Services, said the program also has sharply reduced the amount of time between a youth's arrest and the disposition of a case. That process normally takes an average of 92 days, but was reduced to 52 days through the program, he said.

Most juvenile justice experts say it is important that any punishment of a youthful offender come as quickly as possible after the commission of an offense.

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