Close to 85 percent of teens charged with adult crimes in the region are black, according to an snapshot of recent data from local jails in Baltimore and its surrounding counties.
Every one of the 45 juveniles housed at the Baltimore City Detention Center on a recent day was an African-American. But blacks only account for 63.7 percent of the city's population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Camilla Roberson, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, said overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal justice system is a long-standing issue. But finding a starting point to address the matter faces one major barrier: The state doesn't track such data.
While jail supervisors record the information individually, there is no entity that documents it statewide.
The Baltimore Sun compiled the data for this analysis by asking each local detention center to submit one day of statistics from November. Though centers reported their numbers from different dates, state officials said the population does not fluctuate appreciably within a given month.
"If we as a state are going to address this disproportionality effectively — figure out who is being affected, where the points of entry are, why this is happening and how we can change it — we need to know how many youth are in the jails and their racial and ethnic breakdowns," Roberson said. "That's the first step in creating a solution."
In the Baltimore region, 81 juveniles were held in the adult detention center on a recent day in November on charges including murder, rape, assault, armed robbery and carjacking. Maryland law allows prosecutors to charge youths at least 14 years old as adults for certain crimes involving sex and violence. More than 770 juveniles were charged as adults in Maryland last year.
Youth advocates intend to petition lawmakers when they reconvene in January to limit prosecutors' ability to charge teens as adults.
Chris L. Gibson, a University of Florida criminal justice professor and a fellow at the National Institute of Justice, said discretion in charging juveniles is an important and valuable tool for prosecutors and judges. However, assigning juveniles to adult courts carries consequences, such as the potential for increased recidivism, he said.
Many argue that the threat is more grave for minorities, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
"Such decisions should be informed by in-depth assessments of the potential threat juveniles pose to a community along with the consequences transfer to adult criminal court may have for a juvenile," Gibson said. "Transfer should be reserved for those juveniles who pose the greatest threat to society; those that criminologists commonly refer to as chronic, high rate, or persistent offenders."
The problem is not whether a prosecutor should have the option to charge teens as adults, Gibson said, but whether prosecutors have enough information to determine if the teen is a better candidate to serve time with adults or in the juvenile justice system.
Of the 25 in Baltimore County one day last month, 19 — or 76 percent – were black. Five were white and one was Hispanic. The race breakdown in the county is 65.4 percent white, 26.8 percent black and 4.4 percent Hispanic.
The number of detainees in Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties was significantly smaller.
Anne Arundel had three juvenile offenders charged as adults, two white and one black; Carroll had two, one white and one black; Harford had three juveniles, two black and one white; and Howard had three juveniles, two white and one black.
The population in each of the counties is at least 63 percent white.