Lawmakers last week scrutinized the options left to law enforcement and others to address crimes by children and young teens during the House Judiciary Committee’s second hearing on youth crime.
Lawmakers expressed concern that current law offers no solutions when youth and families do not participate in recommended services or when services fail to prevent young people from continuing to break the law.
A 2022 state law barring police from charging youth under 13 with all but violent crimes has focused attention on the state’s Child in Need of Supervision process, which enables officers and the public to request the help of the Department of Juvenile Services and the courts to refer youth and families to services.
Clyde Boatwright, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said officers are not filing CINS complaints because there is no recourse when young people who are referred to services continue to break the law.
“I think what we’re now questioning is, what happens after that recommendation is made? What is the next step?”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, said that “there needs to be another look” at the tool that intake officers in the Department of Juvenile Services use to decide to close a case, mandate that youth and families participate in services or petition a juvenile court.
Clippinger said this reexamination should determine whether young people who are repeatedly referred to DJS are “triggering anything within the department to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. This is somebody who’s come back multiple times over a short period of time.’”
In Dorchester County, where police say youth crime has spiked since the law went into effect in June 2022, law enforcement and community leaders are questioning whether the CINS process offers adequate options for interventions to address the reasons for youth crime, while allowing law enforcement to protect the public.
When an officer or member of the public files a CINS complaint, DJS must decide within 25 days whether to close the case, agree with the young person and family that they will participate in services or file a petition with the juvenile court. If a CINS case goes to court, a judge can order evaluations or services for youth and families, but courts have no means to enforce their decisions.
Cambridge Mayor Stephen Rideout said there is a need for provisions to spur action in cases where families do not participate in recommended services or 25 days is too long to await a DJS decision.
In such cases, said Rideout, a former youth and family court judge in Virginia, courts can help.
Cambridge Police Chief Justin Todd and Rideout referred to the case of a child under 13 accused of stealing 11 cars in Dorchester County.
Rideout said a juvenile court can start the process of information gathering, rather than “waiting and waiting for voluntary cooperation by parents who may not be willing to cooperate.”
Rideout has suggested an amendment to Dorchester County’s delegation in the General Assembly that would authorize Local Care Teams representing a county’s child-serving agencies to directly petition courts when they disagree with DJS decisions.
Statewide, only 13 out of 511 CINS complaints filed in fiscal year 2023 resulted in formal court petitions, according to DJS data.
Nancy Shockley, coordinator of Dorchester County’s Local Management Board, Moving Dorchester Forward, echoed the challenge of gaining families’ trust while emphasizing that CINS is not the only way to connect youth and families with services.
“The biggest challenge is that you can connect families all day long, but it’s making them take advantage of those resources,” Shockley said. “The majority of the services, unless they’re court ordered, are voluntary services.”
Todd said that communication between Cambridge Police and DJS has improved as the agencies have worked more closely on CINS cases. But he questioned whether current law offers law enforcement and courts sufficient “steps and accountability” for families who resist participating in services or when services do not deter crime.
“The (act) really ties the hands of everybody,” Todd said. “… Because you can mandate them to go to services, but if they come back to court a month later. Did you do the services? No. There’s no next step, and that makes it very difficult.”