HB 1345 — Juvenile Services Education County Pilot Program – Expansion and Alteration

Committee: House Appropriations

Position: Support

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1345. 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 1345 would expand the scope and time frame of the Juvenile Services Education County Pilot Program. The Conference supported 2018 House Bill 1607, which created this pilot program for the operation of juvenile services education programs by the county board of education for the county in which the facility is located. The pilot program seeks to ensure that youth housed in Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) facilities are provided adequate educational programs, commensurate with other students in the county. It also seeks to ensure proper and sufficient staffing of teachers and other personnel, which is a common shortfall of the current dynamic of education programs at DJS facilities.

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 supported juvenile justice reform efforts in recent years. 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 and this program seeks to address some of those issues.

The Church maintains that systems of incarceration should be centered around 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 HB 1345.