No Minor Matter

Children in Maryland's Jails

With frequent references to juvenile predators, hardened criminals, and young thugs, U.S. lawmakers at both the state and federal levels have increasingly abandoned efforts to rehabilitate child offenders through the juvenile court system. Instead, many states have responded to a perceived outbreak in juvenile violent crime by moving more children into the adult criminal system. Between 1992 and 1998, at least forty U.S. states adopted legislation making it easier for children to be tried as adults; a similar measure for youth charged with federal crimes is pending in the U.S. Congress. These measures neither reduce crime nor lead to rehabilitation. But they often do lead to serious abuses when children are held in adult jails, sometimes in appalling conditions of confinement, occasionally sharing cells with adult detainees, and frequently provided inadequate education, medical and mental health care, or age-appropriate recreational opportunities.