Bobby Zirkin is widely regarded as the Legislature's leader in reforming Maryland's juvenile justice system. His efforts have resulted in scores of legislation that has taken Maryland in a new direction of excellence. But more work needs to be done.
Senator Zirkin openly advocates for adoption of the successful Missouri Model of delivering services to delinquent youth in Maryland. This model calls for small regional facilities that treat youth outside of their homes with intense drug treatment, educational services, and counseling for mental health and family issues. Missouri has clearly displayed the public safety benefits of early intervention in the lives of our delinquent youth.
During his first year as a Senator, Bobby helped enact several bills which underscore his advocacy for juveniles in Maryland. One such bill established the "Maryland Rising" mentoring program for children who have spent at least 30 days in a committed placement. Another bill expanded the duties of the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit of the Office of the Attorney General to include the monitoring of any residential facility licensed by the Department of Juvenile Services. Yet another bill established a task force to study group home education and placement practices. That task force has resulted in significant legislation in those areas.
In 2008, with the help of the Secretaries of Juvenile Services and Human Resources, Senator Zirkin continued his advocacy for juveniles by passing legislation that requires a Statement of Need for developing, operating, establishing, relocating, or expanding any residential child care program. He helped establish a Bill of Rights which requires a provider of a residential child care program to develop and provide a handbook of the policies of the provider and the contracting agency to residents and their parents or legal guardians. The Certification of Residential Child Care Program Professionals requires that individuals obtain certification before performing specified responsibilities in the group home setting.
Taken together, this legislation represents a major shift in policy relating to group homes and the children in Maryland's juvenile system. The bills call for a complete overhaul of the licensing process for group homes and a new system based on the needs of the children and communities rather than those of the providers.
Bobby has successfully changed the direction of Maryland's policy on Juvenile Justice, replacing large prison-like institutions with small regional facilities. Currently, a private company plans to open another large juvenile facility on the former Bowling Brook property. Bobby believes strongly that allowing this facility to become another large institution would be a huge step backwards and could undo a lot of the hard work he and others have done over the years. In the 2010 Session, Bobby intends to introduce legislation to limit the size of private facilities to 48 beds.
Bobby believes that juvenile justice reform is the cornerstone of success in public safety and will continue to push the state in the direction of Missouri's successful model.