Attorney Richard Trunnell of Trunnell Law, LLC recently discussed, analyzed, and critiqued the Maryland
Department of Juvenile Services in an article published by the Maryland
Bar Journal magazine (September/October 2016). Out of all the lawyers
in Anne Arundel County, and possibly even Maryland, Attorney Trunnell
may have the most in-depth and insider prospective on juvenile delinquency
and correction than all of them. In his youth, he was raised by a dozen
caregivers, caught up in a turbulent lifestyle, and found himself heading
down a dangerous path. Through education, encouragement, and focus, he
was able to turn himself around and eventually become a successful attorney.
Within Attorney Trunnell’s article, he notes that juvenile crime
in Maryland has dropped 50% since 2006. In 2011, the new Secretary of
the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), Sam Abed, implemented
more efforts to keep kids out of trouble and on their own correct path.
Specifically, the DJS has been steered to stop delinquent acts, or an
action that would be a crime if the minor was an adult.
After a child is accused or arrested for committing a delinquent act, the
DJS system functions by first deciding whether or not to detain the child
before the subsequent trial or hearing. Next, depending on the outcome
of the trial or hearing, and the judge’s own discretion, the decision
must be made to detain the child or not. If so, where should they go for
detention? If not, or when their detention and detainment ends, how will
they be supervised in their communities? All of these questions are addressed
by the DJS whenever a child is brought before the attention of the law.
How Does the DJS Want to Help Youths?
The Maryland DJS has been gradually stepping away from full detention of
juvenile delinquents, as it is not believed to be useful unless the public
or Commonwealth is clearly in danger. It is thought that placing them
into community or rehabilitation programs is much better at correcting
their behavior and letting them see the errors of their ways. There are
a few unique programs throughout the state that attempt to curb delinquency
behavior, including the Crossover Youth Practice Model, the Children’s
Target Investment Zone, and the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.
Some of these are limited to only a few select counties, but they seem
promising all the same.
Lack of Transparency & Trust
Despite the strides taken by Sam Abed and his Administration, there are
issues with the current Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. Most
information about policies and procedures of the DJS are now hidden from
the public, only available upon approved inquest. The Administration has
also disallowed a child’s attorney to be present while a committee
decides whether or not to recommend detainment to the court. In the past,
lawyers were encouraged to be there for their client, as is the norm,
and the turnaround in this regard has raised more than a few eyebrows
Furthermore, minors in detention are only allowed two phone calls a week,
which are recorded. It is extremely rare to ever record an attorney-client
phone call among adult criminal offenders, so why is it happening to kids?
The limited phone calls are also made by dialing collect, charging parents
for the calls. If a child comes from an indigent home, which many delinquent
youths do, the phone calls could be denied by the parents because they
cannot afford to take the call.
Attorney Trunnell actually had a chance to interview Sam Abed about potential
issues with the DJS, specifically a lack of emphasis on education. Children
brought into detention are not given many beneficial educational opportunities,
which, as Attorney Trunnell knows firsthand, are critical for helping
a child remove themselves from criminal or destructive behavior. He was
told that education isn’t the DJS’s own responsibility. This
point can be contested when considering a child with an Individual Education
Plan (IEP) may fall into DJS jurisdiction.
Going Too Far When Children are Detained?
There are stories of children being shackled and strip-searched, even after
being detained for nonviolent offenses. This is a serious point of contention
and concern, as it seems as if it would be completely unnecessary in most
cases. The DJS claims shackling is rare in court but frequently used when
kids are being transferred between facilities. However, strip-searching
happens quite often, as policy demands a full strip-search whenever a
child is visited by a family member.
There also is a lack of consistency in sentencing, as evident by Prince
George’s County. The rate of detainment and detention in Prince
George’s County is much higher than anywhere else in Maryland. Inside
sources at the Public Defender’s Office believe an overzealous judge
there is the cause. If true, does this indicate a general lack of oversight
in the DJS?
Looking Towards the Future
When everything is considered, it is hard to say that the Maryland DJS
is not improving. But there is clearly still more work to be done before
we can all rest on our laurels. That much is clear.
For more information about the DJS, or to read Attorney Trunnell’s
full article in the Maryland Bar Journal,
click here. If you would like to retain Attorney Trunnell’s services for a
legal dispute in Anne Arundel County, you can
contact our firm at any time and request an
initial case evaluation.