Debate Arises Over Treatment of Juvenile Detainees in Criminal Justice System

Juveniles and minors are certainly capable of committing crimes, just as adults are, and the criminal justice system has laws that are specially designed to handle juvenile offenders. Being a minor does not mean you give up any constitutional rights, but questions over how minors in Maryland’s criminal justice system are handled are currently causing some controversy.

Minors in the System

Generally, the criminal justice system treats minors differently than adults for a number of reasons. The first is that the law recognizes that minors are not fully formed in terms of logic, decision making, or maturity.

The law also recognizes that unlike adults, minors are still growing, and being formed and molded into members of society. Thus, there is a greater chance of rehabilitation, and of making juvenile offenders into productive and law-abiding adults.

Report Shocks Assembly

That is why Maryland’s general assembly was shocked at a recent report detailing how minors detained as suspects at detention centers are allegedly being treated. According to the report, minors are stripped naked at the detention centers, and subject to highly invasive body searches.

They are transported shackled, and when they come and go from doctors appointments, or court hearings, the process repeats—they are again stripped and subject to these searches.

The treatment is regardless of the fact that many of these detained minors may be suspects (in other words—not yet convicted of anything), or in some cases, may be detained for nonviolent or minor offenses.

State Wants to Investigate

The state has now set up a task force to investigate the policies and procedures of the Department of Juvenile Services, and that task force has requested extensive records of the Department. The state is also requesting data from the Department that supports any contention that these techniques are necessary or effective.

The Department is resisting turning over any records, even though the legislature is threatening to withhold funding unless and until the records and data are produced. The Department has expressed concern that turning over its safety procedures could be a safety concern, as it would allow people to go around the procedures to smuggle in contraband or plan escapes.

On the one hand, the Department contends its procedures are in line with suggestions by the Department of Justice and other national organizations. They point out that just like adults, juveniles can be dangerous, and commit crimes if not properly restrained during outings to doctors appointments or schooling sessions.

Critics say those harsher methods of strip searching and restraints are for adults, not children. But the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore, suggests that shackles should rarely be used for minors, and that the least restrictive means should be used to ensure safety and to restrain minors in detention centers.

Ultimately, the debate appears to be about transparency in how detained minors are being handled, and whether the procedures are appropriate for youth offenders is an issue that may not be addressed until records are provided.

Minors accused of crimes have rights in the criminal justice system as well. If you or your family member are arrested, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.