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MD Lowers Juvenile Incarceration Rate through Reform

More than 30 percent fewer young people end up in detention in Maryland because of reform efforts in the juvenile justice system. (aecf.org)
More than 30 percent fewer young people end up in detention in Maryland because of reform efforts in the juvenile justice system. (aecf.org)
April 10, 2017

BALTIMORE — Young people in trouble with the law in Maryland have benefited from an updated approach to juvenile justice.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Maryland started using the JDAI method in 2001, and revamped the program in 2011.

Lisa Gary, who heads the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, said that in the past, judges had to make a decision whether to lock kids up or send them home. But now, there are options other than detention.

"We've been able to reduce our commitment rates for kids who were not doing well under just general probation supervision,” Gary said. "So, our commitment rate is down by more than 30 percent."

She said the ideas in the JDAI model have been used statewide to reduce the use of detention while improving public safety. She said the justice system is now focused more on helping kids who are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Gary said many different agencies are collaborating to do what's best for young people. Before adopting the JDAI model, she said, judges across the state weren't exactly on the same page.

"We had 24 different tools, so we had 'justice by geography,’” she said. "By making one tool statewide, we've been able to change use of secure detention for only our highest-risk youth, and govern the release and the supervision of kids who are low- or medium-risk to the community."

The Casey Foundation says the JDAI model affects about one-quarter of the U.S. youth population, and has reduced the use of detention more than 40 percent.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD