HB 1223 — Workgroup on Establishing an Independent School Board for the Juvenile Services Education System

Committee: House Judiciary & House Ways and Means

Position: Support

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1223. The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 1223 would allow for the formation of a workgroup to consider whether the state should form an independent school board for youth housed in Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) facilities. The bill would also authorize the workgroup to examine shortcomings in the educational offerings to youth held in DJS facilities, administered through the Juvenile Services Education System (JSES).

In its pastoral statement Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice (USCCB, 2000), the United States conference of Catholic Bishops cited the “absence of educational opportunities” among considerations “contributing to a high rate of recidivism”. The USCCB also cited “education” as one of the key “necessities that enable inmates to live in dignity”.

The Maryland Catholic Conference has routinely taken positions against juveniles being held in adult jails due to the challenges associated with protecting such a young and vulnerable population. Some measures have been taken to strengthen protections for detained youth in recent years, signaling a movement in the right direction. In the same vein, our state must be vigilant about ignoring the vulnerability of youth who are held in juvenile facilities. Several questions have arisen in recent years regarding the sufficiency and efficacy of education programs in our juvenile facilities. House Bill 1223 will spur an examination of the various considerations surrounding educational programs provided by MSDE in DJS facilities and it is our hope that any shortcomings will be addressed, even if that means forming an independent school board.

The Church maintains that systems of incarceration should be centered on restorative justice. With regard to youthful offenders, our state’s duty to ensure the same is significantly amplified. When youth are denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to an education, their chances to break free from their often challenging circumstances and live productive, fruitful adulthoods are greatly diminished. For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on House Bill 1223.