HB 659 — Juvenile Law – Continued Detention – Minimum Age - Maryland Catholic Conference

HB 659 — Juvenile Law – Continued Detention – Minimum Age

Committee: House Judiciary

Position: Support

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 659. 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 659 bars the continuous detention of children under twelve years of age, except for situations where “emergency detention” is warranted or a crime of violence is alleged. Currently, children under twelve can be continuously held in juvenile detention facilities for up to forty-four days before any disposition hearing is held.

The Church supports the dignity and protection of all children and thus does not support the continuous detention of young children prior to adjudication of their criminal charges. The Church teaches that “society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions” and that “being away from support systems is especially hard on juvenile offenders, who need family and community support.” (Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, USCCB, 2000) It is thus imperative that our state provide the most stable environment available for children during their formative years, even where a crime is alleged.

Furthermore, it is important to note that this bill provides safeguards against releasing potentially violent offenders by making an exception for children alleged to have committed crimes of violence. Under the proposed law, a court would still have discretion to order emergency detention for a child under twelve if the child poses a risk to him/ herself or others. The justices afforded by this proposed legislation thus greatly outweigh any costs or detriment to the State of Maryland. It is for these reasons that we urge the Committee to report favorably on House Bill 659.