By KIERSTEN HACKER
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gov. Wes Moore said Tuesday he expects “robust debates” about juvenile justice in coming weeks – and that his administration will be an “active participant” trying to balance rehabilitation with cracking down on crime.
“The hallmark of what I hope to see in any juvenile justice legislation that’s going to make it to my desk can be summarized in one word: accountability,” the governor said. “I believe in rehabilitation, but I will not tolerate lawlessness.”
Moore’s comments came Tuesday, a day before the opening of the 2024 Maryland General Assembly, in a press conference devoted to his legislative priorities regarding public safety. He said he plans to press for three measures aimed at promoting victim’s compensation, expanding apprenticeships in law enforcement jobs and preventing firearm violence.
But he also mused aloud on the issue of juvenile justice, at a time when state Republican officials are calling for passage of tougher crime policies – and specifically for reversing recent reforms to the youth legal system. House Republican Leader Jason Buckel, R-Allegany, recently vowed to toughen up what he called Maryland’s “soft-on-crime policies.”
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones, Baltimore Co., told a Democratic luncheon Tuesday that Moore also attended that she would be pressing for legislation to handle widespread concerns about juvenile crime. “Everybody needs to be held accountable in our state,” Jones said.
Moore said Tuesday he will demand accountability for young offenders who are repeatedly violating the law, or who use a handgun to threaten the safety of others.
While Moore acknowledged the coming debate over juvenile crime this session, he also stressed the importance of supporting communities and the advocates working at the grassroots level to prevent violence.
He said he supports lengthening probation for juveniles found guilty of certain crimes to allow for more time for rehabilitation programs. He also backs moving more crimes related to illegal guns from misdemeanors to felonies.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and it will take a village to build safer communities,” Moore said.
The legislative criminal justice proposals Moore announced do not address the treatment of juveniles, but rather focus on other things.
He proposed establishing a firearm prevention center based on recommendations from the Safer States Initiative launched by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The statewide office would work in partnership with the White House, taking an “all of government” approach to effective prevention and intervention policies or programs, according to Rob Wilcox, deputy director of Biden’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Maryland would be the first state to establish such a center, said Wilcox, who spoke at Moore’s press conference.
“It’s a critical step to focus investments and drive the strategies that we know will save lives,” Wilcox said.
According to Moore, 75% of homicides in Maryland are committed with a gun. He said he considers it not only a public safety issue but a public health issue. He also pledged to get illegal guns “off of our streets.”
To help wage that fight, Moore hopes to recruit more people into law enforcement and public safety with a bill to promote apprenticeships.
“We need officers who reflect the diversity of our great state,” Secretary of Labor Portia Wu said, “and we need them to come from the neighborhoods they serve.”