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Baltimore police wrongfully kept nearly 40 minors in jail during Freddie Gray protests

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A law enforcement officer uses pepper spray to disperse the crowd at the intersection of North and Pennsylvania Avenues in Baltimore, on May 4, 2015. Photo by Sait Serkan Gurbuz for Reuters.

During three days following Freddie Gray’s funeral, almost 50 children were held despite 39 of them meeting standards for release, public defender office says

At least 49 children were arrested during three days of civil unrest and protest that engulfed Baltimore last week, nearly half of whom were never charged with an offence, the city’s Office of the Public Defender (OPD) has said.

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The public defender office stated that all 49, arrested between 27-29 April, were detained for up to 48 hours by the Maryland department of juvenile services (DJS), despite 39 of them meeting standards for release.

Baltimore is part of the Annie E Casey Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), which aims to reduce juvenile detention by measuring an arrested child’s risk level and producing an objective recommendation on whether they should remain detained. The OPD has accused the DJS, tasked with making release recommendations to the juvenile court, of ignoring the JDAI procedures and keeping all 49 children detained.

In one stark example, an elementary school fifth grader was arrested in an incident described by the public defender’s office as “protest related”. He received a low JDAI score and was recommended for release, but instead, was kept in juvenile jail for a night. In a statement the OPD continued: “The young boy was then brought to court in chains — hands and feet shackled — before finally being released to his parents.”

A spokesman for the DJS told the Guardian that the delay in releasing many of the children detained resulted from court closures and pointed out that four of the 37 children arrested during Monday’s rioting were sent to sheltered accommodation rather than jail.

“The Department of Juvenile Services looks out for the best interests of community safety and the best interests of the youths themselves,” said the spokesman. “At the time [of the arrests] Baltimore was under a state of emergency and in a very unstable state so DIJ chose to hold onto the youth until a judge was able to see them.”

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The spokesman pointed out that a JDAI score did not mandate for a release, but an assessment tool for use of the court.

The DJS could not comment on the 49 arrests, but a spokesman for the Baltimore police told the Guardian that between 25 April and 3 May, 60 juveniles were arrested.

“We know that the consequences of putting a young child in jail, even for a short period of time, are dire,” said Melanie Shapiro, chief attorney for the juvenile division of the OPD.

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“Many of these kids are already experiencing post-traumatic stress – from witnessing violence, experiencing hunger and being subjected to police harassment at very young ages. Now these kids have a juvenile record that can impact college admittance, employment and their ability to enroll in the military.”

During the unrest, Maryland governor Larry Hogan extended the legal period of detention without charge from 24 to 48 hours, prompting criticism from both the public defender office and civil rights groups who argued the executive action effectively suspended habeas corpus rights.

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Around 100 adults arrested during the riots were subsequently released without charge after police failed to produce paperwork to bring them before a court.


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