SB 856 — Juvenile Justice Reform Council

Committee: Senate Judicial Proceedings

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 856.  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.

Senate Bill 856 would authorize the creation of a “Juvenile Justice Reform Council”.  The council would be charged with studying aspects of Maryland’s juvenile justice system, many aimed at restoration, such as education, support services and recidivism prevention.  The Council would also be charged with reviewing best practices from other states.   

In 2015, the General Assembly undertook a monumental bipartisan effort to establish the “Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council”, which reviewed of numerous aspects of Maryland’s adult criminal justice system.  That effort led to the passage of the seminal “Justice Reinvestment Act” the following year, supported by the Conference.  On the heels of such a successful, bipartisan effort, one might ask:  if Maryland is willing to undertake a sweeping introspection into its adult criminal justice system, why not do the same with our youth justice system?   

In the pastoral statement Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice (2000), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated, “We call upon government to redirect the vast amount of public resources away from building more and more prisons and toward better and more effective programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse treatment, and programs of probation, parole and reintegration.”  Additionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has further stated 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.”  Moreover, it is well-settled, in many secular, judicial and faith-based circles, that holding youth to the same standards of accountability as a fully-formed adult is plainly unjust.  In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court specifically noted that youthful offenders possessed “diminished capacity” and the inability to fully appreciate the risks and consequences of their actions. 

In recent years, the MCC has supported various juvenile justice reform proposals. Whether it was increased educational services for incarcerated youths, limitations automatically charging youth as adults, eradicating without parole for juvenile offenders, or ensuring that youth are not housed with adult inmates, all of these efforts were grounded in Church teaching.  The Church thus remains a strong advocate for restorative justice, particularly within the juvenile system.  We therefore urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 856, thus authorizing a much-needed review of Maryland’s juvenile justice system.