New Poll: Black and White Democrats Divided on Juvenile Crime Strategy

Respondents were asked about charges, strict laws, and leniency to reveal that 62 percent of black democrats favored stricter laws for juvenile offenders compared to a comparable percentage of white democrats who disagree.

Juvenile crime has been a major topic of conversation over the last couple months. Recently, the House Judiciary Committee held a five hour hearing on the state of juvenile crime and how new laws may or may not have an affect on some of those outcomes. While there were a number of competing opinions about juvenile crime rates and appropriate solutions, almost all parties agreed more information and data will help stakeholders and policymakers focus attention on the most effective solutions.

Unsurprisingly, in addition to data, public opinion polls will certainly play a role in what types of action legislators are comfortable taking. A recent Gonzales poll recorded the opinions of 818 registered voters between September 18 to 28 and asked multiple questions concerning juvenile crime and penalties. Maryland Matters interviewed the polling agency principal, Patrick Gonzales, who shared that the findings showed an unusual level of disagreement between black and white Democrats, specifically on the question of leniency for juvenile offenders.

From the Maryland Matters article:

“That was the most stark thing for me,” said Gonzales. “When you see that within the Democratic Party, you’ve got an issue where it’s going to be hard to hold together a coalition as a Democrat. White liberal Democrats, on that issue, are just out of sync with their Black counterparts.”

The question Gonzales is specifically referring to was whether juvenile offenders should face leniency or strict laws. As Gonzales shared in the Maryland Matters interview, the biggest surprise came when results were broken down by race. 62 percent of black Democrats responded that strict laws were preferable, while 62 percent of white Democrats were in favor of leniency.

Another question from the study concerned a provision that was passed into law during the 2022 legislative session, and was a major topic of discussion during the September 13 hearing of the Judiciary Committee. This was the statute change which made it so children under the age of 13 cannot be criminally charged for non-violent crimes. The list of offenses they can not be charged with includes things like breaking and entering, stealing, carjacking, selling drugs, arson, etc.

The Gonzales poll asked Maryland voters to weigh in on an example of one of those crimes that a child 12 or younger could not be charged for, specifically what should happen if a 12-year brings a loaded gun to school. The question asked if this should be a criminal charge. Of the 818 respondents, 540 agreed that it should be a criminal charge, which was 66 percent of the polled audience. 57 percent of Democrats agreed. Republicans and Unaffiliated voters agreed that criminal charges should be allowed at 81 and 69 percent respectively.

The next hearing to discuss juvenile crime is meant to be held by the Judiciary Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates on November 8th.

Read full Gonzales poll results.