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Poll: Maryland residents prefer strict response to juvenile violence



A new poll found that most Maryland residents — including Black Democrats — support a tough-on-crime stance toward youth violence, favoring laws that include detention and boot camps for juveniles over laws that prescribe social programs and counseling.

Fifty-nine percent of Marylanders said strict laws would “ultimately better help children under 18 who commit crimes” while 35 percent said laws characterized as more lenient, which acknowledge society bears responsibility for much of the behavior, would be the best strategy, according to a Gonzales Poll released on Tuesday.

The findings come as the state legislature weighs how to address a surge in youth gun violence and carjackings and as law enforcement officials and some legislators seek to unwind recent laws that have taken a more systemic, holistic approach to addressing juvenile crime.

Youth crime in the state is down overall — mirroring a national trend — according to a recent Department of Juvenile Services analysis, which shows juvenile arrests were down by 17 percent in fiscal 2023 when compared with fiscal 2020.

A majority of every demographic group polled by Gonzales Research and Media Services — men, women, Black people, White people, Republicans, Independents — except Democrats, said that strict laws should be in place to combat juvenile crime. Democrats were the only group to nearly split on the question, with 46 percent preferring strict laws and 47 percent preferring lenient laws.

Nearly 62 percent of Black Democrats said they preferred strict laws.


Democrats make up a strong majority in Maryland and Black people make up a large voting bloc of the party.

Public safety has commanded lawmakers’ attention in recent months as elected officials field reports of problems bubbling up in their communities. During a recent House Judiciary Committee meeting, Del. Karen Toles (D-Prince George’s) who is Black, gave voice to a shared frustration, saying: “We need to stop making excuses for these kids, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

This poll, which surveyed 818 registered voters, was conducted from Sept. 18 through Sept. 28. The margin of error is a range of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The poll also found that more than half of Maryland residents oppose an effort, recommended by the Maryland Juvenile Justice Reform Council and supported by Gov. Wes Moore’s administration, to ban charging youth who commit violent crimes as adults.

Under current law, young people accused of violent crimes are automatically charged as adults and can be waived down to juvenile court.

Fifty-seven percent of Marylanders said they oppose legislation that would allow a teenager accused of rape or murder to have his or her case tried in juvenile court instead of being charged as an adult. Thirty-eight percent of the respondents said they support a change to the current law that automatically charges a young person as an adult.

Last year the Maryland Juvenile Justice Reform Council recommended that all cases involving juvenile defendants begin in juvenile court. Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) proposed a bill that never made it out of committee. The measure was supported by Gov. Wes Moore’s administration.


Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent N. Schiraldi, a nationally recognized criminal justice reformer before joining Moore’s administration earlier this year, has supported an end to the automatic prosecution of teenagers as adults.

“The outcomes for kids in the adult system are terrible. They are more subject to abuse in an adult facility, sexual and physical, and [they] have worse outcomes,” Schiraldi said last month when asked about the proposal during a hearing to discuss juvenile crime and what actions the legislature should consider next year to address rising gun violence.

Md. judiciary chairman: Youth violence is ‘a failing … of all of us’

Schiraldi said the Journal of American Medical Association released a study this summer that found that young people tried as adults have shorter life spans.

“The evidence is still there for it,” Schiraldi said, of doing away with automatic prosecution in adult courts. “Whether the politics are there for you, you guys are the elected officials — not me.”

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) said he agrees that youth should be charged as juveniles, adding “it would be wholly irresponsible for us to pass a piece of legislation of that sort at this time because our system is inadequately suited.”

Smith said Tuesday that the juvenile jurisdiction ends at age 21, which means if someone rapes or kills a person at age 17 and remains in the juvenile system he or she can go free at age 21 without a record, without supervision and without a requirement to participate in services.


Smith said services should continue to age 25 and the services need to be comprehensive, noting that the state does not have a drug and alcohol treatment facility for juveniles.

“I want to get to yes but our system needs tremendous reform before we can get there,” he said in a text. “The system is not ready. We need to push for the foundation to be laid.”

Meanwhile, the poll found that Marylanders are largely pleased with Moore as he marks nearly a year in office, receiving a 60 percent approval rating. President Biden received a 57 percent job approval rating from Maryland voters.

More than three-quarters of Democrats, 53 percent of independent voters, and 30 percent of Republicans approve of the job Moore is doing.

“Governor Moore’s 30% approval rating among his Maryland “Grand Old Party” constituents is one of the best marks we’ve seen a Republican voter bloc confer on an elected Democrat officeholder in a long time,” Patrick E. Gonzales said in the findings.

Source: Washington Post

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