The Republican candidate for Howard County state's attorney announced yesterday that she wants to change Maryland laws to give school and court officials access to juveniles' criminal records.
Marna McLendon said she wants to alter the state's confidentiality laws as part of an overall plan to get tougher on juvenile offenders.
Ms. McLendon criticized the record of the state's attorney's office's on juvenile cases -- citing 1993 statistics that, she said, show that few defendants were firmly punished. The office has been run for the past 16 years by William Hymes, who is not seeking re-election.
"I absolutely believe we have to be tougher," she said at a press conference at Republican headquarters in Columbia.
Her opponent, Democrat Dario Broccolino, agreed. He also supports changes in confidentiality laws, but noted similar efforts failed in the state General Assembly last year and this year.
"It's not anything new that she's proposing," he said. "It's typical grandstanding politics in an election year."
Ms. McLendon said that, because juvenile records are sealed, school officials have no way of knowing when a student commits a crime.
As an example of the problems this could cause, Ms. McLendon cited the case of Shirley Rue Mullinix, a teacher with the county schools who was slain by a student in 1992.
School officials didn't know until later that the student had an extensive criminal record.
Also at yesterday's press conference, Del. Robert Flanagan, a Republican from western Howard County, said state confidentiality laws prohibit court commissioners from obtaining a juvenile's criminal record. As a result, they set bails without knowing if juveniles have criminal histories.
Mr. Flanagan said that if he's re-elected, he would work with Ms. McLendon to introduce a bill loosening the confidentiality laws during the state General Assembly's session next year.
When prosecuting juveniles, Ms. McLendon said, prosecutors need to be more aggressive.
She said the state's attorney's office has just one prosecutor handling juvenile cases and that she would add another.
Ms. McLendon cited court statistics showing that only three defendants were sentenced to an institution in 1993 -- of the 753 juvenile cases prosecuted by the state's attorney's office that year. Most cases were put on the juvenile court's inactive docket, ended with the defendant receiving probation or were dismissed by prosecutors.
The Republican candidate said many juvenile offenders perceive prosecutors and judges as "wimps" because of the lenient sentences that often are issued.
She suggested having strict guidelines for juveniles on probation and sentencing more juveniles to detention facilities, so they know they'll be held responsible for their actions.
Ms. McLendon said her policy would extend to child abuse cases. She said child abuse cases need to be prosecuted to prevent adults from becoming repeat offenders and children from becoming abusers when they are parents.