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Senate leaders impressed with juvenile justice nominee but mum on his views

Vincent Schiraldi, shown in 2021 while he was New York City’s correction commissioner, is Gov. Wes Moore’s nominee to head the Department of Juvenile Services. With an extensive background in criminal justice, Schiraldi has called for keeping juvenile defendants out of the adult criminal justice system until they turn 21 or older. (AP File Photo/Jeenah Moon)

ANNAPOLIS — Senate leaders Friday sidestepped questions about Gov. Wes Moore’s pick to lead the Department of Juvenile Services and the nominee’s views on trying offenders now considered legal adults in family court.

The Senate Executive Nominations Committee will take up the first nine of Moore’s Cabinet secretary appointments, including the Departments of Budget and Management, Aging, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Labor.

Senate President Bill Ferguson and Sen. Pam Beidle, D-Anne Arundel and chair of the nominations review panel, both avoided questions Friday about the views of Vincent Schiraldi, the governor’s choice to head juvenile services, regarding adjudicating persons now considered legal adults in the juvenile system.

Beidle, when asked directly about Schiraldi’s published views, sidestepped the issue to talk about the nominee’s focus on expanding school days for those in juvenile detention.

“I had a really good conversation with the acting secretary yesterday,” said Beidle. “And I was actually very pleased with the work that he wants to do for juveniles that are currently in the system. And of course, that’ll be his position in Maryland to work with juveniles. He’s really hoping to have more programs for them so they stay busy.”

Ferguson and Beidle said appointees will move through the confirmation process essentially in the order in which they were named by Moore. Schiraldi does not yet appear on the list for this coming Monday.

Schiraldi was a senior research scientist at the Columbia School of Social Work whom Moore has named the incoming secretary of juvenile services. He has an extensive background in criminal justice, including serving as the commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections; as the director of the juvenile corrections in the District of Columbia; and as commissioner of probation in New York City. He holds a master’s in social work from New York University, and a bachelor’s from Binghamton University. 

Moore called Schiraldi a national leader in juvenile justice reform.

In 2015, Schiraldi, then a senior researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authored an op-ed for the Washington Post that advocated for 21-years-olds, and perhaps those as old as 25, to have criminal cases adjudicated in family court.

“However, despite the developmental differences between young and fully mature adults, criminal law draws a stark, scientifically indefensible line at 18,” Schiraldi and co-author Bruce Western wrote. “This has disastrous public safety outcomes. For example, 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds released from prison are rearrested and about half return to prison within three years, the highest recidivism rate of any age cohort.”

Schiraldi in other publications has also criticized news media coverage of crime, saying in 2001 that it may have driven as many as 47 states to pass tougher juvenile crimes. At the time, Schiraldi was working for the D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, an organization that supports alternatives to incarceration.

Ferguson also did not directly address Schiraldi’s published work. He told reporters he was impressed by the nominee during a recent meeting.

“He made a great point to me which was when it comes to youth involved in crime,” said Ferguson. “It’s a bell curve, and that of the 95% of kids in the middle are often the ones not talked about. What is often talked about in the news and in communities are the 2.5% at either end of the spectrum, those who are either very young or those who are committing the most heinous crimes. The system overall though, is in the 95% is really where you make a massive difference in the safety of communities. And he was very, very, very focused in on the importance of making sure we have services for juveniles who are coming back into communities, that they have the right services. You actually change their behavior and change their  perspective on their futures.”

Moore, during a radio interview earlier in the week, said Schiraldi’s work was less about ideology and more about science.

“What Secretary Schiraldi was saying, you know, the truth is that’s not an ideology,” Moore said during an interview  on WBAL radio. “What he’s talking about is brain science, right? Brain science just talks about the basic development of the brain, and he looked at the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that actually focuses on judgment. The prefrontal cortex brain science shows does not have a measurement of full development until a person hits around 25 years old.

“So what he’s saying is simply science, but when you’re looking at how that correlates to our justice system, you know, we do have to make sure that we are having a measure of accountability for our children and a measure of accountability for anybody who is involved in violent crime, particularly repeated series of violence crimes.”