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Archbishop Lori helps lead forum for youth justice reform in Maryland

Archbishop William E. Lori joined a Jan. 12 panel in a spirited discussion on ways to reform Maryland’s youth justice system on the first day of the state’s annual General Assembly session.

The virtual event was hosted by the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, which includes the archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.

Archbishop Lori was joined in the livestreamed event by panelists Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-41), Del. J. Sandy Bartlett (D-31), Human Rights for Kids CEO James Dold and public defender Krystal Williams. 

The archbishop noted that a disproportionate number of young people charged with crimes are minorities or from low-income sectors. He said the justice systems’ efforts should be focused on “restorative justice” instead of retribution. He called for increased funding for programs focusing on crime prevention, rehabilitation, education and substance-abuse treatment.

Archbishop Lori said the Catholic Church is “fundamentally opposed to policies” that create more incarceration. He also said the Archdiocese of Baltimore works with a lot of young people and is invested in giving them every possible opportunity. He said Marylanders have to take the thought of “restorative justice” to heart.

“It’s an issue that is so important to everyone in the State of Maryland,’’ he said, noting that a cornerstone of the Catholic faith is protecting the dignity of every person.

Carter and Bartlett are spearheading the legislative push and sponsoring several bills aimed at reforming youth criminal-charging policies.

Carter said she wants Maryland to “stop violating the human rights of children.” One of her bills, the Child Interrogation Act, would make it a requirement that parents would need to be notified before a child could be interrogated.

Click play below to watch the forum. Story continues beneath.

Williams, the director of community engagement with the Office of the Public Defender, pointed out that children as young as 5 can be charged as adults in the state. She said it is a matter of fairness to raise that minimum age of being charged as an adult to 13. She also wants to see changes in automatic adult charges and a ban on indefinite probation.

Dold said churches have an important role to play in reforming the system.

“They are doing God’s works in the trenches,” Dold said. “Faith communities are central pillars to getting that kind of legislation passed.”

Dold also said the root cause of youths committing crime is that they have experienced some kind of childhood trauma, and that those traumas are rarely addressed.

The livestream of the event was viewed by nearly two dozen people and is available on both Facebook and YouTube. The event was moderated by WBAL-TV broadcaster Andre Hepkins. The forum opened with a prayer from the Rev. Marlon Tilghman of the Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air and concluded with a prayer from Archbishop Lori.

The state Legislature, which first met in 1634, opened its 444th session Wednesday. It is expected to review 2,000 proposed bills this session. The Maryland Catholic Conference said it plans to submit testimony on nearly 200 bills. 

In addition to testimony on youth justice reforms, it plans to review bills on removing conscience protections for faith-based hospitals; proposals to address food insecurity, housing and transportation access for lower-income residents; suicide prevention efforts; right to counsel for immigration hearings; funding for BOOST scholarships and school nurses; environmental protection; and a number of bills related to life issues, from the start of life to the end. 

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