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Task force delays vote on youth shackling policy

Rachel Baye

A state legislative committee voted Thursday in favor of changes to how and when the Department of Juvenile Services strip searches children and adolescents in its custody. However, the group delayed decisions about new regulations for when and how to shackle youth.

The bulk of the nearly three-hour meeting was mired in debate over procedure.

The task force did land on a few details, such as that staff are to wand and pat down children before strip searching them, and strip search subjects should get paper gowns.

Juvenile Services Secretary Sam Abed said the task force’s convoluted voting process impeded it from implementing sufficient reforms for when the department is prohibited from using a strip search.

His department wanted to prevent strip searches of youth after an “off-campus outing” that is supervised by department staff. The committee instead approved different prohibitions, including after a child is transferred from one detention center to another, which Abed said is less expansive.

He also said other strip search prohibitions seem to contradict existing law.

But at the end of the day, his department will set its own policy.

“The recommendations that the department made really do stand alone, and irrespective of the task force’s recommendations we will take those steps that go further than the task force’s recommendations,” Abed said.

Meanwhile, legislators plan to introduce bills in the General Assembly next month that may or may not align with the group’s recommendations.

“The whole idea of having this task force was so people can sit down and discuss what’s important to improve the juvenile justice system,” said Del. Jay Jalisi, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the House version of the bill that created the task force. “Nothing here precludes me or any other member of the Maryland General Assembly to put forth some legislation to either make these into law or even for those things which were turned down by the task force today, to be put forth and let the whole Assembly discuss it.”

The group plans to continue with recommended changes to the department’s policy on shackling youth at its next meeting in two weeks. Sen. Anthony Muse, a Prince George’s County Democrat serving as task force chairman, said the group will complete its work, even if it has to schedule additional meetings to do it.

“It is clear that the legislature said something must be done, that there will not be without any checks and balances, we will not have mechanical restraints on our kids no matter what, whether they have [been convicted of crimes ranging from] shoplifting to a violent offense,” he said.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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