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Richard Trunnell Writes Feature Article for the Oct/Nov Maryland State Bar Journal

Attorney Richard Trunnell of Trunnell Law, LLC recently discussed, analyzed, and critiqued the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services in an article published by the Maryland Bar Journal magazine (September/October 2016). Out of all the lawyers in Anne Arundel County, and possibly even Maryland, Attorney Trunnell may have the most in-depth and insider prospective on juvenile delinquency and correction than all of them. In his youth, he was raised by a dozen caregivers, caught up in a turbulent lifestyle, and found himself heading down a dangerous path. Through education, encouragement, and focus, he was able to turn himself around and eventually become a successful attorney.

Within Attorney Trunnell’s article, he notes that juvenile crime in Maryland has dropped 50% since 2006. In 2011, the new Secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), Sam Abed, implemented more efforts to keep kids out of trouble and on their own correct path. Specifically, the DJS has been steered to stop delinquent acts, or an action that would be a crime if the minor was an adult.

After a child is accused or arrested for committing a delinquent act, the DJS system functions by first deciding whether or not to detain the child before the subsequent trial or hearing. Next, depending on the outcome of the trial or hearing, and the judge’s own discretion, the decision must be made to detain the child or not. If so, where should they go for detention? If not, or when their detention and detainment ends, how will they be supervised in their communities? All of these questions are addressed by the DJS whenever a child is brought before the attention of the law.

How Does the DJS Want to Help Youths?

The Maryland DJS has been gradually stepping away from full detention of juvenile delinquents, as it is not believed to be useful unless the public or Commonwealth is clearly in danger. It is thought that placing them into community or rehabilitation programs is much better at correcting their behavior and letting them see the errors of their ways. There are a few unique programs throughout the state that attempt to curb delinquency behavior, including the Crossover Youth Practice Model, the Children’s Target Investment Zone, and the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Some of these are limited to only a few select counties, but they seem promising all the same.

Lack of Transparency & Trust

Despite the strides taken by Sam Abed and his Administration, there are issues with the current Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. Most information about policies and procedures of the DJS are now hidden from the public, only available upon approved inquest. The Administration has also disallowed a child’s attorney to be present while a committee decides whether or not to recommend detainment to the court. In the past, lawyers were encouraged to be there for their client, as is the norm, and the turnaround in this regard has raised more than a few eyebrows of suspicion.

Furthermore, minors in detention are only allowed two phone calls a week, which are recorded. It is extremely rare to ever record an attorney-client phone call among adult criminal offenders, so why is it happening to kids? The limited phone calls are also made by dialing collect, charging parents for the calls. If a child comes from an indigent home, which many delinquent youths do, the phone calls could be denied by the parents because they cannot afford to take the call.

Attorney Trunnell actually had a chance to interview Sam Abed about potential issues with the DJS, specifically a lack of emphasis on education. Children brought into detention are not given many beneficial educational opportunities, which, as Attorney Trunnell knows firsthand, are critical for helping a child remove themselves from criminal or destructive behavior. He was told that education isn’t the DJS’s own responsibility. This point can be contested when considering a child with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) may fall into DJS jurisdiction.

Going Too Far When Children are Detained?

There are stories of children being shackled and strip-searched, even after being detained for nonviolent offenses. This is a serious point of contention and concern, as it seems as if it would be completely unnecessary in most cases. The DJS claims shackling is rare in court but frequently used when kids are being transferred between facilities. However, strip-searching happens quite often, as policy demands a full strip-search whenever a child is visited by a family member.

There also is a lack of consistency in sentencing, as evident by Prince George’s County. The rate of detainment and detention in Prince George’s County is much higher than anywhere else in Maryland. Inside sources at the Public Defender’s Office believe an overzealous judge there is the cause. If true, does this indicate a general lack of oversight in the DJS?

Looking Towards the Future

When everything is considered, it is hard to say that the Maryland DJS is not improving. But there is clearly still more work to be done before we can all rest on our laurels. That much is clear.

For more information about the DJS, or to read Attorney Trunnell’s full article in the Maryland Bar Journal, click here. If you would like to retain Attorney Trunnell’s services for a legal dispute in Anne Arundel County, you can contact our firm at any time and request an initial case evaluation.