© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Maryland has more inmates imprisoned since childhood than 36 other states, report finds

Rachel Baye / WYPR
The Jessup Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland.

Maryland is one of nine states with more than 1,000 prison inmates who are serving time for crimes they committed as children, and one of just four states where that group accounts for at least 6% of the prison population, according to a report released Tuesday by the advocacy group Human Rights For Kids.

Of the 1,132 Maryland inmates incarcerated since childhood, nearly 20% are serving life sentences and another roughly 19% are serving sentences 40 years or longer, according to Tuesday’s report.

Maryland also has one of the largest racial disparities out of the 45 states whose data the group analyzed. More than 90% of the Maryland inmates incarcerated since childhood are people of color, and more than 80% are Black.

During a call with reporters, Human Rights for Kids founder and CEO James Dold said the practice of charging children in adult criminal courts became more prevalent during the 1990s.

“In 1995, a group of criminologists coined the term ‘superpredator’ to describe what they theorized was a new wave of children who were coming of age who are more violent and less remorseful than ever before,” Dold said. “This narrative led to a wave of draconian policies that were rooted in part by racism.”

States reacted by lowering the age at which children could be charged as adults, and in some cases, eliminating children’s access to juvenile courts.

The Human Rights For Kids Report finds that nationwide there are more than 32,000 people incarcerated for crimes they committed as children.

“The great Nelson Mandela, who we’re often fond of quoting, says that there's no keener revelation of the society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” Dold said. “What does it say about our soul if we are comfortable discarding the lives of more than 32,000 children across this country, children who dealt with unimaginable trauma in their prior history and then oftentimes act out as a result of that trauma.”

Human Rights for Kids urges states to enact a series of reforms, including prohibiting children younger than 16 from being charged in adult court under any circumstances and starting all criminal cases involving juvenile defendants in juvenile court.

Maryland has 33 crimes that automatically land children at least 16 years old in adult court. There are a few crimes, including first-degree murder and first-degree rape — that automatically send children who are 14 or older to adult court.

Legislation that would have changed Maryland’s law to start all juvenile defendants in juvenile court failed during this year’s General Assembly session. During legislative hearings, prosecutors argued that the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services was not equipped to take children who commit particularly violent crimes. However in written testimony, the Department of Juvenile Services said it supports changing the law.

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