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Groups say Maryland's Juvenile Justice Reform Bill is 'uncivilized to cage children'

Groups say Maryland's Juvenile Justice Reform Bill is 'uncivilized to cage children'
Groups say Maryland's Juvenile Justice Reform Bill is 'uncivilized to cage children' 02:58

BALTIMORE -- Curbing juvenile crime across Maryland continues to be one of the biggest issues this legislative session.

Lawmakers on both sides are working on a juvenile justice reform bill.

However, there are several groups against the bill. They believe the bill is harsh on children and will lead to negative impacts on their lives.

"These kids need care," Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, of Racial Justice Now!, said. "Not cages."

Members of the ACLU and other advocacy organizations gathered on Lawyer's Mall in Annapolis Thursday to demand lawmakers and Governor Wes Moore put a stop to one of the most high-profile bills in the legislature, The Juvenile Justice Reform Bill.

"For me, the bill is completely uncivilized to cage children as young as 10 years old," Sankara-Jabar said.

The bipartisan bill, which also has the support of the governor, was introduced in January.

It would make it possible for children between 10 and 12 to be charged for certain offenses, such as gun possession and auto theft.

After the recent rise in juvenile crime across the state, lawmakers believe the bill would also address breakdowns in the juvenile justice system and provide more oversight and accountability.

"I'm talking about accountability both for those who commit a crime and also accountability for those who are taking care of our young people," Gov Moore said on January 31.

However, members of these organizations feel not enough research has been done.

"This bill will mostly be used against Black kids from marginalized communities," Anne Arundel County Assistant Public Defender Erin Seagers said. "This bill is not backed by evidence-based practices. It does not have the endorsement of a credible commission of experts and it does not provide the kind of help that kids need."

They're hoping lawmakers will change the bill, only leaving language that calls for a study on the issue of juvenile crime in Maryland.

If that doesn't happen, they want the Governor to reject the bill.

"Why would we be treating 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds as if they're mini adults capable of making the same types of decisions as adults?" Nekima Levy Armstrong of Wayfinder Foundation said. "Our children's guidance. Our children need support. Our children need interventions."

This bill is cross-filed in both the House in Senate and each chamber's version is slightly different.

The next step is for them to work out those differences and vote on it again.

If it passes, then it heads to the governor.

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