Maryland judges should carefully consider whether juvenile detainees should remain in state custody, according to an order released from Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera on Monday.
The judge’s order comes after a petition from the Office of the Public Defender, which sought widespread release of juvenile detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lower-court judges in Maryland are encouraged to work with attorneys and advocates to identify detained juveniles for potential release and “to limit detention or commitment, unless necessary to protect the safety of that juvenile respondent or the safety of others,” according to the order released late Monday.
Barbera’s guidance requires judges in juvenile justice cases to take several factors into consideration, including:
- whether detention poses serious health risks to the child or staff;
- whether the juvenile was committed to a facility for a treatment or education program that has now been suspended; and
- whether there is a viable alternative plan, such as community supervision, to reduce any risks associated with release.
If a child remains in state custody, judges should conduct review hearings every two weeks, according to the order.
A response from the Office of the Public Defender was not immediately available Monday night.
On Friday, Barbera issued orders dismissing the public defender’s petition as well as one filed by civil rights groups seeking similar widespread release of low-level and elderly adult inmates, saying that orders with guidance for lower courts would be issued shortly.
An order on adult inmates was not released Monday, when the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services announced the first inmate death as the result of the novel coronavirus.
As of Monday evening, there were five confirmed cases of COVID-19 among youths in Department of Juvenile Services facilities and six cases among people who work within the department.
The affected facilities include the Lower Eastern Shore Children’s Center, Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center, Cheltenham Youth Detention Center, Meadow Mountain Youth Center and the DJS training department.
Children and staff who may have been exposed to the virus are being quarantined at the facilities or at their homes and monitored for symptoms, according to the department.