Restorative Juvenile Justice: Maryland's Legislature Reaffirms Commitment to Juvenile Justice Reform
Simms, Stuart O., Corrections Today
During the 1997 legislative session, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice introduced a proposal revising the Juvenile Causes Act to reflect Maryland's emphasis on balanced, restorative and victim-centered justice. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's commitment, along with the strong support of Maryland's legislative leaders, effected this statutory change, taking a major step toward building a comprehensive system of graduated sanctions that balances three important goals: public safety and community protection, offender accountability, and competency and character development.
Although the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice had for several years been strategically targeting investments, service enhancements and system reforms with these restorative justice principles in mind, our success in bringing restorative justice to the forefront of the legislature's agenda helped catalyze debate and resulted in much-needed, bipartisan legislative support. The state of Maryland now stands united in its statutory commitment to continued juvenile justice system reform, with restorative principles serving as statewide criteria for evaluating proposed reform measures.
Accountability for All
Maryland's approach to juvenile justice is based on the belief that the juvenile justice system's clients are not just offenders, but include victims and communities as well. Therefore, the juvenile justice system is compelled to balance its resources, time and attention among these three clients, holding each accountable to the others.
While the accountability of offender to victim and community is an intuitive concept inherent in justice itself, the accountability of communities and victims to each other and to offenders is a relatively new one. Yet restorative justice depends on this accountability. Community members can help assess harm, suggest and/or implement reparative approaches, and serve as resources for victims and offenders. Victims are able to take an active role in the juvenile justice process, demonstrating to offenders that their crimes have long-term consequences and teaching communities that individuals can make a difference.
Maryland believes that the courts alone cannot determine the degree of injury experienced by victims or communities as a result of delinquent acts; nor can the courts and juvenile authorities adequately determine how to mend the damage. Thus, we are taking a more comprehensive approach by balancing the needs of victims, communities and juvenile offenders and expanding their influence on the juvenile justice process.
The Department of Juvenile Justice was well-positioned to advance the state's restorative justice agenda by the time we introduced our juvenile justice reform bill this year. We have reached out to our front-line staff over the last two years in an effort to reform the juvenile justice system from the ground up, and they have responded with a renewed commitment to hold juvenile offenders accountable, promote public safety, increase community involvement, expand youth development programs and enhance victim services. We also have worked extensively to inform Maryland's leaders -judges, prosecutors, legislators, businessmen, victim advocates, law enforcement agencies and school administrators - of our bold new vision, and have received the support needed for meaningful juvenile justice reform.
Having built consensus on juvenile justice reform goals, we worked to reallocate resources to maintain residential programs for serious, chronic and violent juvenile offenders, while continuing to expand delinquency prevention and early intervention services, and initiating new programs for intermediate-range juvenile offenders. We have an obligation to allocate substantial resources for the youths in our system who pose the greatest public safety risks, but we also have an obligation to concentrate sufficient resources on at-risk youths and first-time offenders. …