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Community Voices Key to Youth Justice Wins in Maryland

April 29, 2019
Courtney McSwain

Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY) closed this year’s legislative session celebrating the passage of two key youth justice reform 
bills, and created a broad base of community advocates to support future advancement. 

This year saw the passage of:  

  1. SB856/HB606, which created a Youth Justice Reform Council to recommend policy reforms to improve outcomes for youth involved in the justice system. 

  2. HB659, which protects very young children (under 12) who are charged with youth offenses from being placed in prison-like detention.  

In addition to these top legislative priorities, ACY was also able to join advocates in stopping SB13/HB867, a bill that would have required the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice to “notify a local superintendent of schools or school principal of a student’s reportable offense or offense related to a student’s membership in a criminal gang.” The bill would have directly interfered with the rehabilitation of youth and created barriers to students returning to school with a fresh start in a new academic setting.   

A key aspect of ACY’s advocacy was placing community voices at the forefront, especially youth voices. In February, ACY in partnership with fellow NJJN member Community Law in Action (CLIA) held its Youth Justice Week of Action, during which individuals directly impacted by the youth justice system gave powerful and timely testimony. ACY also galvanized support from national recording artist Maimouna Youssef who posted about Youth Justice Week of Action on social media.   

Ashely DeVaughn, ACY’s Youth Justice Senior Policy Associate, notes the importance of building a strong community base of support for youth justice policy work. 

“Our policy makers have not traditionally heard about these issues directly from people who have been incarcerated,” DeVaughn says. “We need a community coalition making noise so that these issues can’t be ignored.”  

ACY is now working on the development of a Community Engagement Framework,” which will bring together youth, members of the faith-based community and college students to stay engaged and prepared for youth justice advocacy in Maryland. ACY has already forged partnerships with Bowie State University, two churches in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, and former system-involved youth in southern Maryland.  

“My hope is that, through our Community Engagement Framework, those who are most impacted by youth justice reform have a voice. We’re also tapping into those who are studying these issues and want to work in this field as their career. It’s important to create tracks for those who have the capacity to advocate and who want to do so as their profession,” DeVaughn says.   


What’s next?  

ACY plans to implement the Community Engagement Framework this fall. Looking towards 2020, some of ACY’s policy priorities will include:   

  • Shielding laws  to protect the names and personal information (including digital images) of youth charged as adults. 

  • Expungement  to ensure the automatic expungement of adult charges for youth when their offenses are waived to youth court. 

  • Probation  to ensure young people have limited and purposeful probation consistent with their rehabilitative needs. 

  • Race Equity  to require a robust race equity analysis for proposed legislation to help close disparities for children of color across Maryland. 

Want to know more about Advocates for Children and Youth? Visit them online!   

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