A Baltimore youth 17, has been arrested 15 times since age 10, including charges of drug dealing, carjacking with a handgun, and assaults. Yet he’s spent just a few weeks in juvenile treatment facilities over the years and was sent home in July after admitting to charges in a robbery. A few days later, he was arrested on charges that he critically wounded a 5-year-old girl as he shot at another youth, says the Baltimore Sun. Because the juvenile justice system emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment, teens who are lightly sanctioned sometimes graduate to more violent crimes. Some critics, including the city’s top prosecutor, are seeking better ways to deal with young offenders, including charging more as adults and lengthening the time they can spend in custody or under supervision.
“There are some kids who have exhausted all of the resources that the juvenile system offers,” said prosecutor Patricia Jessamy. More than half of the juveniles who return to their communities after the most serious sanction available in juvenile court – an out-of-home placement – are in handcuffs again within a year. Three-quarters of them have been rearrested within three years. “The total process needs to be changed on all levels,” said Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon.
Last year, 4,200 Baltimore youths faced juvenile charges. Of the ones found responsible for crimes, about 1,100 were removed from their homes to locked facilities, structured foster care and other places.