The Dissent: How the Townsend Report Fails to Address the Roots of Juvenile Crime and What to Do About It

About the Authors

Robert M. McCarthy, J.D.

Robert M. McCarthy is the named principal of a general-practice law firm located in Bethesda, Maryland. His particular concentration is in juvenile cases; he has handled approximately 5,000 such cases in the last 15 years. Previously, he was a contract attorney with the Maryland state Public Defender’s Office and the Department of Human Resources.

McCarthy is the prior chairman of the Juvenile Law Section of the Montgomery County Bar Association and was selected to be the alter ego representative of the Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judges to the bar association.

He has taught the juvenile law module of the street law course at the Montgomery County Detention Center, and is a past judge of the Montgomery County Bar Association’s mock trial competition.

He has also been a member of the Montgomery County Commission on Health’s Task Force on At-Risk Youth. He was subsequently appointed by the Montgomery county executive, and confirmed by the county council, to be a member of the Juvenile Court Committee.

McCarthy is the author of the current handbook on the practice of juvenile law in Montgomery County, titled The Nuts and Bolts of Juvenile Law. He has participated in the recording of training tapes for social workers confronting child sexual abuse.

While in law school (Potomac School of Law), he was the editor of the law review and a member of the moot court board. He previously received his undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Maryland, College Park and is a graduate of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.

He has provided voluntary legal services to various charities involved with youth, including the Boy Scouts of America, the Boys’ and Girls’ Homes of Maryland, the “Christmas in April” programs in Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Maryland, and the Silver Spring Community Vision Homeless Shelter.

He is a prior recipient of a governor’s citation from then-Governor William Donald Schaeffer for his work with youth, and he has been recognized by the Maryland General Assembly.

In 1995, he was appointed by Governor Parris N. Glendening to serve upon the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform of the Cabinet Council on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the latter often referred to as the “Townsend Commission.” As a member of this group, McCarthy was uniquely qualified to write this Calvert Issue Brief.

McCarthy is the former president and Paul Harris fellow of a local Rotary International Club. He has been elected by the citizens of Bethesda to be their representative on the local Republican central committee. He is also a past president of the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School board. He has been knighted by James Cardinal Hickey to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and is a regular columnist for Our Parish Times.

McCarthy is married to the former Lori Nelson and has four children, ages two to nine. When not active in the community, he enjoys camping and fishing with his children.

David B. Muhlhausen

David B. Muhlhausen, a research intern for the Calvert Institute, greatly assisted McCarthy with the writing of this essay. Muhlhausen is a youth counselor at the Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School and is a graduate student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of a prior article for the Calvert Institute, “Reform Schools Reformed: How Competitive Tendering Saves Your Money,” Calvert News, Vol. I, No. 3, Summer 1996.

Executive Summary

When I first heard that Bob McCarthy was interested in writing a “dissenting opinion” by way of a response to the Cabinet Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice’s recommendations for the juvenile justice system, I was more than pleased. McCarthy had been a member of a task force of the cabinet council, generally known as the Townsend Commission, a gubernatorially appointed panel that earlier this year released a report exonerating the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) from just about any blame for youth crime in Maryland and rewarding the agency with an additional $6.2 million of taxpayer funds. Though sensitive to the nature of the issues under discussion, McCarthy pulls no punches in this essay. With the invaluable assistance of Dave Muhlhausen, a youth counselor at the Hickey reform school, just outside Baltimore, Maryland, McCarthy exposes exactly what is wrong with the Townsend Commission’s – and, by extension, the Glendening administration’s – plans for the future of juvenile justice in this state.

The central issue is this: Research has unequivocally proven that illegitimacy is a primary cause of juvenile delinquency. This topic is a sensitive one, particularly because Maryland’s illegitimacy problem is not spread evenly across racial groups. The Townsend report (the focus of this essay) and the Curran report (a similar document released a year earlier) decline to address this matter other than in the most glancing manner. Instead, both reports concentrate on side concerns which, if not entirely irrelevant, are not necessarily central to the issue at hand. The reports thus discuss poverty and/or unemployment, firearms possession and poor school performance. The Townsend report also devotes space to blaming high black youth involvement in the criminal justice system on police racism. This contention is successfully debunked by McCarthy and Muhlhausen, who focus solely on violent crimes and serious larceny. Even factoring out drug offenses, African-American young males are still disproportionately involved in criminal activities, McCarthy and Muhlhausen demonstrate, going a long way toward disproving the Townsend notion that police concentration on the drug trade artificially inflates black arrest rates..

The fact is, all sorts of people do badly in school, possess handguns or are unemployed – and most of these folks never break the law. What is it about the adolescent delinquents that sets them apart? The answer is that the vast majority come either from broken homes or, more likely, from homes where no father was ever present. The case McCarthy and Muhlhausen make is that no serious improvement can come about in the juvenile-crime situation until the question of this state’s staggering rate of illegitimacy is addressed. Consider: Maryland has the ninth-highest rate of single parenthood of any state in the Union. Baltimore City has the fifth-highest rate of any city in the country. In 1990, 28 percent of families in Maryland were headed by a single parent. In Baltimore, the figure was 46 percent. Among African-American families across the state, there are almost as many single-parent families as there are two-parent families (88 percent). In Baltimore, there are almost twice as many black single-parent families as two-parent families (186 percent). All of this is entirely ignored by the Townsend and Curran reports, as are the studies supd by McCarthy and Muhlhausen that correlate illegitimacy with high crime.

Instead, the Townsend report falls back on excuses and pleas for more “last chances” for juvenile offenders. This has been tried since the 1960s, with results for all to see. In contrast, McCarthy and Muhlhausen propose a tough-love package of reforms designed to make life safer for Maryland residents, black and white. At the micro level, the authors demand that DJJ be held responsible for past failures. As noted by the state Department of Fiscal Services, DJJ has no consistent means of tracking recidivism and has in fact only ever conducted one examination of its clients’ recidivism rates. Yet, this is the same agency that has the temerity to suggest all sorts of new programs for Maryland – and taxpayers – to embrace, without having the slightest idea how to measure their effectiveness in years to come. McCarthy and Muhlhausen also advocate the adoption of a Serious Habitual Offenders Comprehensive Action Program (SHOCAP). Under SHOCAPs, traditional concerns about confidentiality for habitual youth offenders are set aside to allow for the creation of a data base accessible to all police cruisers and barracks, allowing law-enforcement officials to know whom they are dealing with during altercations. McCarthy and Muhlhausen also determine that DJJ spends far too much time and money trying to rehabilitate the “hard core” of its clients that are beyond redemption. These 2,000-odd individuals should immediately be transferred to the adult system, freeing up DJJ funds for early-intervention programs.

At the macro level, McCarthy and Muhlhausen demand a loud and consistent government public-relations program to bring the stigma back to illegitimacy. As long as nearly half of Baltimore’s babies are born without fathers, as long as this state remains well above the national average for single parenthood, there can be no long-term improvement. Studies upon studies have shown that a broken family leads to a breakdown in the socialization process. Without a reversal of current trends, the future is bleak for civil society in Maryland. Government officials simply must find it within themselves to condemn illegitimacy. No excuses.

– Douglas P. Munro, Editor

I. Introduction

On Wednesday, February 12, 1997, President William J. Clinton and Republican congressional leaders met to forge a consensus on the top issues facing the nation. After the meeting, they agreed that juvenile crime was one of the country’s top five concerns.1 Correspondingly, juvenile crime is one of the most pressing issues for Maryland, too.

One day after the congressional meeting, Thursday, February 13, the Glendening administration released its report on juvenile justice reform, titled Making Communities Safe: Effective Juvenile Justice in Maryland (hereinafter referred to as the Townsend report).2 The report, along with an additional $6.2 million in spending on juvenile justice in Maryland, is held out as the basis for dealing with surging juvenile crime. Tragically, the recommendations put forth constitute neither effective juvenile justice nor a plan to make communities safe.

In January 1995, Governor Parris N. Glendening (D) selected his lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, as the chairwoman of a new Cabinet Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. This in turn created the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform to carry out research and report its findings back to the cabinet council. The task force was composed of various political, legal and business individuals. (See the appendices.) The lieutenant governor thought it best to select the state agency most responsible for the failure of juvenile justice in Maryland, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), to provide the staff for the task force. She selected the secretary of juvenile justice, Stuart O. Simms, as co-chairman of the task force. (The other co-chairman, Montgomery County District Court Judge Douglas H. Moore, Jr. retired shortly after the task force was established.) The lieutenant governor had DJJ actually write the report.

The principle failure of the Townsend report is that it does not really know what it wants to say. Building on an earlier report released by the attorney general,3 it takes a stab at identifying a smorgasbord of “root causes” of crime, without being able to suggest any seriously ameliorating measures. The report also presents a pastiche of specific program reforms or creations it considers necessary for DJJ and various other executive-branch agencies. These, however, evidence no consistent theme, in places appearing to favor decentralization; elsewhere, calling for more centralized decision making. Above all, the report does not challenge the amoral framework within which DJJ functions. The Townsend report, like the earlier attorney general’s report, skirts embarrassing issues pertaining to illegitimacy and differing ethnic groups’ involvement in violent crime. These omissions render both reports marginal in the annals of literature on the subject of juvenile delinquency. This essay seeks to demonstrate the flaws in the Curran and Townsend reports, and will in its final section present a package of alternative reforms that should immediately be instituted.

The Townsend report should be seen for what it is: (a) a manifesto attempting to excuse the failed current system and (b) the output of a political establishment too nervous to address the real root causes of juvenile crime. Because the report was actually written at DJJ, the agency is exonerated of all blame for Maryland’s explosion in youth crime. Though the report would like to be considered as an independent audit, it is in fact a whitewash job.

II. Juvenile Crime in Maryland

Maryland has a serious and growing crime problem. Figure 1 shows that, while the number of adult arrests per year stayed relatively flat between 1990 and 1994, overall juvenile arrests jumped by 30 percent.4 Further, the level of youth violence has increased dramatically. Violent juvenile crime arrests increased in Maryland from 2,645 in 1990 to 3,569 in 1994, a leap of 35 percent, as shown in figure 2.5 Worse may still be to come. More than 25 percent of Maryland’s population is under the age of 18. The number will be over 26 percent by the year 2000.6 This may not sound dramatic, but it means that in three years the under-18 population will be larger by at least 120,000 individuals.7

DJJ, the state agency charged with dealing with juvenile delinquents, in fiscal year (FY) 1995 had a total caseload of 49,638 children and a budget of slightly over $116.8 million. It spent $48 million of its budget that year taking care of just 1,991 children in need of residential placement.8 The per child cost for one year of residential placement was $24,108. This compares to the mere $3 million DJJ spent on the 19,335 children dealt with through youth service bureaus,9 at a per capita cost of $155. (Youth service bureaus are non-residential community programs devised to help delinquent juveniles and their communities.) Likewise, the agency spent $1 million for 7,155 children in prevention services in FY 1995,10 at a yearly per capita cost of $140. This is an unfortunate distribution of funding, with too much emphasis in detention and secure residential placement and not enough on the bureaus.

As discussed below, the fact is that DJJ is not very good at handling detention and secure commitments. A more efficient way of conducting business would be for DJJ to focus more on early intervention, a low-cost solution likely to preclude a certain number of adolescents from sliding into a life of crime. This will in the long run reduce the numbers being placed in costly residential facilities. However, early intervention comes at a (short-term) price. Money expended now on intervention is money denied to secure commitments. To be blunt, DJJ should cease wasting money on hard-core cases, stop trying to save them. A number of these youths should be transferred to the adult system, freeing up DJJ time to concentrate on prevention. To maintain the status quo as the crime rate and violence increase exponentially will mean that current spending patterns will further gravitate toward residential and detention placements. This disbursement will be huge and untenable. Unfortunately, the Townsend report discussed below talks approvingly of giving serious offenders “one more chance,” thus maintaining them in the juvenile system at great expense to taxpayers.

It is in the context of soaring delinquency that Governor Glendening set out to solve Maryland’s juvenile-crime problem. By executive order, the governor in 1995 established the Cabinet Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Townsend. To propose and discuss solutions, the council in turn established a task force. One of the authors of this report was a member of the latter group, the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform. This essay may be considered a “dissenting opinion.”

The Facts about Juvenile Crime

The dominating fact is this: The problem of juvenile crime is at its worst in Baltimore City. Baltimore accounts for only 15 percent of the teenage population of Maryland.11 The annual growth in the size of the juvenile population is not great either, increasing only three percent in FY 1993.12 However, Baltimore witnessed a 73.4 percent increase in juvenile crime from 1991 to 1993 (from 9,774 to 16,946 incidents), while the rest of the state saw only a 10.2 percent increase (from 28,930 to 31,869).13 Baltimore City’s juvenile violent crime rate is more than double the state’s average14 – 155.7 incidents per 10,000 residents, compared with 65.7 per 10,000 statewide. In FY 1993, 68 percent of the admissions to the Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School, which is the facility for juveniles guilty of severe criminal conduct, were from Baltimore.15 Representing only one of the 24 political subdivisions in the state, Baltimore is responsible for about one-third of Maryland’s juvenile crime. Tellingly, its school system has the lowest percentage of on-time graduation of any school district in the state.16 More important still, as shall be discussed in detail below, the number of fatherless children in the city has soared in recent years. Baltimore City’s rate of illegitimacy was 25 percent in 1970; in 1993, it was an excessive 41 percent.17 This is crucial. And, in the Townsend and Curran reports, it is all but ignored.

Maryland’s Status in the Nation

Crime in general is a clear, present and increasing danger in Maryland. As of 1993, Maryland ranked tenth in the nation in crimes per capita.18 It ranked seventh in the nation in violent crimes, sixth in homicides, third in robberies.19 In 1995, violent crime declined nationwide by five percent, but Marylanders saw crime rise in nearly every category.20 Most pertinent to this report, in 1992, Maryland ranked fourth in juvenile crime and third in juvenile homicide.21 In Baltimore City, juveniles commit almost one-fourth of the murders.22 The problem is not one of resources. In 1992, Maryland ranked fifth in the percentage of its funding devoted to the criminal justice system, tenth in per capita expenditures.23 In 1993, it ranked twelfth in arrest rates. Per capita, it ranked eleventh and twelfth in the number of persons incarcerated in jails and prisons, respectively.24 (See table 1)

What, then, is the problem? As we shall discuss below, in essence there has been a complete breakdown of the socialization process for young Marylanders. Children are no longer taught how to function in civil society. This results in social chaos. Absent internalized mores of social conformity, external conformity must be imposed. This is vital for the functioning of a free society. In plain English, without a moral presence in children’s lives, there must be a police presence in inverse proportionality. This is regrettable but necessary. More unfortunate still, the Townsend report calls into question the need even for this. Both the Townsend and Curran reports put themselves in the awkward position of questioning the social discipline imposed by the police force while being too coy to discuss the internalized values that would be necessary to replace it. Instead, the Curran and Townsend reports focus, in least in large part, on only tangentially relevant factors such as material poverty, unemployment and handgun ownership.

III. The Curran Report: Fishing for Red Herrings

For the beginnings of the Townsend report, one must go back a couple of years to a report authored under the auspices of the Maryland attorney general, J. Joseph Curran, Jr. Released in January 1996, the Curran report, Maryland v. Crime: A Battle Plan for a New Year and a New Century, represented the official position of the top law-enforcement officer of the State of Maryland. (This report is hereinafter referred to as the Curran report.) It identified what it believed to be the five “root causes” of juvenile delinquency. These were (a) poverty, (b) low school-completion rates, (c) child maltreatment, (d) possession of firearms and (e) teen and unwed pregnancy.

On the questions of child maltreatment and poor school-completion rates, the Curran report is largely correct in its assessments. On poverty and firearms, the report settles for picking on the political left’s favorite bogeymen. In this respect, Curran is no more convincing than anyone else, as we discuss below. As for teen and unwed pregnancy, the report’s focus is “teen” more than “unwed,” a serious error. Inasmuch as the it avoids the embarrassing issue of soaring illegitimacy, the attorney general’s report renders itself superfluous to the real fight against crime.

The truth is that the root causes of crime involve uncomfortable introspection for Maryland as a community. Indeed, this essay suggests that the current solutions posed, and questions not dealt with because of their political implications, are indeed exacerbating the problem rather than solving it. These unasked questions – including issues of race, marriage, religion and the failed political philosophy prevalent in the juvenile justice system – are paralyzing intelligent discussion on this matter. Put bluntly, the current political thinking on juvenile crime is wrong – unfortunately, in many cases, dead wrong. This is to the detriment of thousands of children’s lives.


Poverty is frequently supd as a mitigating factor, relieving criminals of full responsibility for their actions. Such nonsense can be laid to rest quickly. Though it hardly represents a detailed analysis, figure 3 shows that from 1960 through 1990, the number of crimes committed per 10,000 Americans increased from 188.7 to 582.0, a jump of 208.4 percent.25 Meanwhile, adjusting for the value of non-cash benefits such as food stamps and taking into account the consumer price index’s exaggeration of inflation, the poverty rate over more or less the same period fell by 54.5 percent. A 1959 poverty rate of 23.1 percent had by 1988 become a rate of 10.5 percent.26

Daniel Duberstein retorts to the proposition that poverty is the primary cause of crime:

In its simplest form, this contention is absurd: If it were true, there would have been more crime in the past, when people were poorer. In poorer nations, the crime rate should be higher than in the United States. More significantly, history defies the assumption that deterioration of economic circumstances breeds crime (and improving conditions reduce it). Instead, America’s crime rate gradually rose during long periods of economic growth: in 1905 to 1933. As the Depression set in and incomes dropped, the crime rate also dropped. It rose again between 1965 and 1974 when incomes rose steadily. Most recently, during the recession of 1982, there was a slight dip in crime, not an increase. What is true of the general population is as true of black Americans. For example, between 1950 and 1974 the black income in Philadelphia almost doubled, and the homicides more than doubled. Even the Reverend Jesse Jackson, whose prescriptions for social reform mirror conventional liberal ideology, admits that black-on-black homicide is not an issue of poverty.27

The crime rate in other communities also shows no link between low incomes and crime. As James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein report, “During the 1960s, one neighborhood in San Francisco had the lowest income, the highest unemployment rate, the highest proportion of families with incomes under $4,000 per year, the least educational attainment, the highest tuberculosis rate, and the highest proportion of substandard housing of any area of the city. That neighborhood was called Chinatown. Yet in 1965, there were only five persons of Chinese ancestry committed to prison in the entire state of California.”28 Simply stated, there is little evidence to indicate that poverty in and of itself is a primary cause of crime. Indeed, in contradiction of the Curran report, the Townsend report admits as much, saying that between crime and poverty “a direct link cannot be substantiated historically.”29


The Curran report recommends expanding the laws restricting the purchase, sale, possession and transfer of guns.30 This suggestion is (a) incorrect in its background assumptions about the propensity of gun owners to break the law and (b) likely to be entirely ineffectual.

To take the first criticism, the “philosophical” one, the attorney general’s report falls back on that tried and tested canard, “guns cause crime.” Criminals with the intent to harm other people are the real cause. By blaming an object for the actions of wicked people, the Townsend report’s authors are seriously in danger of denying the importance of individual responsibility. In his exhaustive study, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, criminologist Gary Kleck reviews 29 surveys of gun control over the past three and a half decades.31 Of these, 18 find no relationship between gun control and crime/suicide, eight find mixed evidence and only three find a clear, positive relationship.32

Moving to the second, more practical, critique of the Curran report, juveniles are already precluded from gun ownership, so why the need for new laws? While it would be foolish to deny that teenagers’ easy access to guns is a factor influencing modes of criminal behavior (which is not the same as causing criminal behavior), the fact is that legally we have done what we can. Existing prohibitions on juvenile gun ownership have failed. Why should new laws fare better? The proposed solution of making the illegal possession of handguns by juveniles somehow “more” illegal by means of further legislation is preposterous. It would only jeopardize law-abiding citizens’ constitutional rights.

There are an estimated 200 million privately owned guns in the United States, most of which are used for sporting and self-defense purposes.33 In New York City, handguns have been significantly restricted for half a century and violence in the city remains too high, despite a recent, much-ballyhooed reduction in crime there. In 1976, Washington, D.C. banned handguns. By 1991, the homicide rate had doubled.34 To be sure, guns are available elsewhere for District residents. So perhaps more telling is the Vermont example. In 1994, statistics show, the small New England state, with among the least restrictive handgun ownership rules in the nation, had a crime rate of 3,250.3 per 100,000 residents.35 Maryland, with certain restrictions, that year had a crime rate of 6,122.6 per 100,000. The District, with an absolute ban on handguns, saw a crime rate of 11,085.3 per 100,000.36 The homicide rates for Vermont, Maryland and D.C. in 1994 were: 1.0 per 100,000; 11.6 per 100,000; and 70.0 per 100,000 residents, respectively.37 (As an aside, it appears from some research that there is something of an inverse relationship between the banning of handguns and local violence. This makes sense: If predators know that their victims have been legally disarmed, there is far less risk to their predatory conduct. The data also indicate that, in states where “concealed carry” laws are liberalized, the crime rate drops.38 A “concealed carry” law allows a resident not excluded by reason of insanity or felony conviction to carry a concealed handgun about his person for self-defense.) Simply stated, increased legal firearm ownership appears to have no positive relationship to crime rates. Maryland’s political establishment needs to demonize gun ownership to deflect attention from the true problems: the failed policies of big-government programs and an accompanying erosion of the American moral code.

Teen and Unwed Pregnancy

It is here, on the issue of unwed pregnancy, that the Curran report’s most egregious omissions are clearest. Unwed pregnancy merits precisely five lines in the entire 63-page report. This is nothing short of a scandal. The report correctly identifies illegitimacy as a root cause of crime, but it fails to explain why.39 The issue is so sensitive that the Curran report prefers not to deal with it at all.

However, even if the Curran report had placed more emphasis on this topic, the limited focus on teenage mothers would still have been insufficient. Though the issue of unmarried teen pregnancy touches upon illegitimacy’s key role in crime, it is not necessarily central to it. The “unmarried” component is more important than the “teen” component. Absent fathers are the crucial indicator of delinquency.

The mere fact that a mother is a teenager when she gives birth, or happens to be unwed at the time of her pregnancy (provided the father remains present), is not itself any indicator of vulnerability to delinquency and crime. It is not the age or unweddedness of the mother at the time of conception or delivery that causes the children to be at risk for juvenile delinquency; it is the abandonment of these children by their fathers. This is key. That the Curran report chooses to ignore the issue is testimony to the establishment’s fear of the consequences of tackling sensitive issues head on.

IV. The Townsend Report: The Emperor’s New Clothes

The fact is, the cabinet council’s Making Communities Safe report is more interesting in what it omits than in what it addresses. Thus, as with the Curran report, among the topics the task force was too timid to confront – either honestly or, in some cases, at all – are illegitimacy, religion, welfare and minority involvement in the justice system. In our view, the task force members were aware of the importance of these factors, but considered them too explosive to deal with.

The Townsend report has a number of positive points to make. For instance, if it is true, as the report suggests, that the juvenile justice system is currently geared too much toward the needs of offenders and not enough to the needs of victims,40 then this most certainly must be remedied. The report is also correct to encourage the contracting out, to the private and non-profit sectors, of the education of delinquent youth, noting that Maryland law does not restrict the expenditure of public education monies to the public sector.41

On the other hand, the report suffers from notable confusion in places. Its principle failing is that it buys into the Curran report’s “root causes” of crime more or less lock, stock and barrel. Table 2 shows that there is a correspondence between three of the Townsend report’s seven “root causes” and three of the Curran report’s. Another two lesser Townsend causes correspond to Curran causes. The most disturbing thing about the Townsend report, however, is that it really does not say anything. After months of work, the report, in its own words, should be considered no more than “a vision and an intended framework for reform, rather than a detailed blueprint. Translating this framework into operational reality will require a concentrated, multi-year effort”42 – and no doubt a substantial bill to the taxpayer. As for its “root causes,” the Townsend report declines to explore these issues, leading to some internal inconsistencies. In other areas, the report falls back on blaming the police for uneven arrest rates among racial groups. Finally, and most glaringly, the Townsend report cannot bring itself to deal with illegitimacy. It is this latter omission that makes the report, in fact, largely irrelevant.


This is one of the Townsend report’s seven root causes of crime, corresponding roughly though not entirely with Curran’s “poverty” category. This is where the report demonstrates some inconsistency in its thinking. Increased teenage unemployment is directly tied to increases in minimum-wage laws. Politicians and bureaucrats wring their hands at the lack of opportunity in urban areas. The Townsend report is no exception, saying, that “especially the high concentration of joblessness in certain inner-city areas” contributes to crime.43 At the same time, the political establishment makes job opportunities harder to come by. The recent increase in the federal minimum wage is likely to have an adverse effect on the number of entry-level jobs available, those jobs most likely to be filled by untrained, uneducated, undisciplined, inner-city youth.

Mark Wilson of the Heritage Foundation claims that “increasing the minimum wage to $5.15 will harm the non-working poor by raising prices and destroying over 200,000 entry-level job opportunities by 1999.”44 A study by Masanori Hashimoto of the University of Washington found that the minimum wage reduced on-the-job training provided for low-skilled youth and increased their unemployment rate.45 Minimum wages reduce on-the-job training in two ways. First, since the mandated wage above the market price for labor denies low-skilled workers jobs, these thus unemployed people are deprived of access to the training that would have come with the job.46 Second, even when unemployment does not result, the minimum wage takes away money from the employer that could have been spent on boosting the job skills of minimum-wage employees.47 Basically, the extra income mandated to be paid to the employee could have gone to giving him or her additional skills that would help improve the chance for advancement and extra income in the future. Therefore, the employee is given additional income now but is denied training that would be of benefit later in life.

Not to be outdone by the federal government, Baltimore City has enacted a “living wage” requirement of $7.70 per hour for all city contractors.48 This renders illegal whole categories of employment. It fails to take into account that the value of labor is not necessarily the same as the cost of labor. If the value of an employee’s labor to his employer is $5.00 an hour, mandating that this labor’s cost be $7.70 is likely to result in the elimination of a job. These eliminated entry-level jobs would have been the training ground for a better future for inner-city youth. The fact is, the best job-training program is a job. To some, this is not clear.

What the government takes away from the private sector, it gives back in the form of a government program. Many of the current social programs, therefore, involve putting “job training” programs back into the community. It is, quite frankly, unclear what jobs the job-training programs are training youths for, since there are so few low-skill jobs left in the city. They have been priced out of existence.

A Racist System

Another of the Townsend report’s misdiagnosed issues is that of minority over-representation in the juvenile justice system49 The logical conclusion is to let criminals roam free because of their race. The report notes that “for both violent and non-violent offenses, African-American males are over-represented at all levels of the juvenile justice system. A 1995 DJJ research project indicated that African-American males’ over-representation was most significant at the so-called ‘deep-end’ of juvenile justice system, where detention and secure residential services are required. The disproportionate representation of African-American males in the juvenile justice system was found to be significant even when such variables as age, offense history, and county of residence were held constant.”50

The task force notes “the disproportionate representation of minority youth” is a “major problem.”51 Moreover, “In Maryland, the percentage of minority youth in detention is 66 percent.”52 The first thing to note is that 66 percent of minority youths in Maryland are not in detention. What the report means is that, of youths in detention, 66 are from minority groups – a very different matter (and a sad commentary on the status of grammatical education in Maryland’s public schools). Second, details aside, the plain fact is that black youth have higher crime rates than other groups. This is “probably a reflection of police targeting of African-American communities and the drug trade,” tut-tuts the task force. Having thus implied that the “system” is racist, the Townsend report hedges its bets by adding, “More sophisticated research must be done, however, in order to determine whether this is a result of discrimination or of more chronic or serious levels of offending by African-Americans.”53 So, let us apply some of said research here. (The authors are aware that this is not an easy topic to discuss, due to general sensitivity on issues pertaining to race. We thus ask the reader’s forbearance and request that he note that all the statistics described below are taken directly from state police reports.)

The system is purported to be at fault because the percentage of black males involved in the juvenile justice system is disproportionate to their numbers in the general population.54 An examination of Maryland state police reports for 1992 reveals that there were 269,144 arrests of all types in the state that year. Of these, 134,074 were of whites; 133,347, of blacks.55 Each group thus represented one-half of 99 percent of all Maryland arrests in 1992. Asians accounted for 1,046 arrests (less than one percent), with 317 arrestees not attributed to any of these three categories.56 So, sadly, while Maryland’s population is only 25 percent African-American, this group represents almost 50 percent of all the arrests, as shown in figure 4.

It will not do simply to conclude that the justice system is racist and then walk away from the issue. This will solve nothing. It will certainly not help the children. Not only must one consider arrest rates, but the types of incidents for which arrests are made must also be taken into account. Looking to table 3, under murder and negligent manslaughter for 1992, 68 whites were arrested, next to 453 blacks and no Asians.57 For forcible rape, 323 whites were arrested, 688 blacks and only three Asians.58 For motor-vehicle theft, 1,067 whites were arrested, compared with 5,534 blacks and 28 Asians.59 In carrying/possession of weapons, 1,886 whites were arrested, 3,250 blacks and 33 Asians.60 In short, of 14,333 arrests for these serious offenses, black males accounted for 10,925 – or 76.2 percent. In fact, the only significant categories where whites were “over-represented” were: (a) driving under the influence of alcohol, with 21,415 arrests against 4,547 for blacks and 207 for Asians; and (b) general liquor-law violations, where whites represented 4,311 arrests versus 1,179 for blacks and 28 for Asians.61 As for Asians, in every category they were statistically under-represented vis-à-vis their numbers in the population.

It is also important to note that the categories where African-Americans are significantly represented are murder, rape, motor-vehicle theft and weapons charges.62 We have not discussed drug-distribution charges. This is intentional. The case is frequently made – not least by the Townsend report – that the police disproportionately target black drug dealers and, by inference, allow white ones to operate relatively freely. In this case, however, we have mentioned only violent crime and serious larceny. These are not issues the police can fudge, even if they wished to. All murders are investigated – period. It should be a concern that blacks are not only committing a higher percentage of the crimes, but that the crimes they are being arrested for are more serious. In light of these figures, it becomes doubly important not merely to dismiss the system as racist. The task force’s “remedy,” presumably, would be to lower arrest rates among black youths until these were in proportion with white arrest rates, even for the very serious wrongdoings mentioned here. However, as the victims of such black crimes are themselves generally black, it is difficult to see how fewer arrests would benefit the black community overall.

The Townsend report purports to be concerned about the plight of victims. Yet, in making excuses for youthful black criminals, the report commits the injustice of ignoring those most vulnerable to black crime, blacks themselves. A recent article in Baltimore Afro-American newspaper notes that, of the 131 people murdered in Baltimore in the first five months of 1997, 118 were black.63 A new Calvert Institute survey of the families that left Baltimore for the surrounding counties in the last five months of 1996 found that 52.6 percent of blacks gave crime as their primary reason for leaving the city, next to 40.1 percent of whites.64 In short, on this particular issue, the Townsend report is about as wrong as it can be.

Before entirely dismissing this topic, let us turn a moment to the question of drugs – in this case, drug treatment for juveniles in detention. The Townsend report complains that “African-Americans are under-represented among those youths referred to substance-abuse treatment. [Nineteen ninety-five] data indicates [sic] that white youths accounted for 60 percent of the referrals to substance-abuse treatment.”65 This is true, but the reader will recall that the only arrest category in which whites are over-represented is alcohol abuse. The report laments that black youth are under-represented in substance-abuse programs,66 but omits that “substance-abuse treatment” includes alcohol programs. So it is unlikely that there is any inconsistency.

Crime and the Family

Let us now get to the crux of this essay: Crime is a problem of family, not of race. Given that marital stability in black households in Maryland is over six times less prevalent than among white households and, given the effect broken homes have on the crime rate, it is not the melanin content of African-Americans’ skin that is the vital factor here. It is, instead, the fatherlessness of their homes. This issue will be addressed in depth in the following section.

Among married, two-parent families, whether black or white, the crime rate is very low. Critical are the capacity and determination to maintain a stable relationship, not race. The reason race appears to be an important factor in crime is the wide difference in marriage rates among ethnic groups. While the crime rate among blacks has risen sharply, so has the absence of marriage.67 Two researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health, John E. Richters and Pedro Martinez, have researched families in high-risk, inner-city neighborhoods. Their study indicates that only six percent of the children from stable homes, even in the poorest neighborhoods, become delinquents, while 90 percent of the children from homes rated as unstable and unsafe become delinquent.68 The good news is that even in violent, crime-ridden neighborhoods, “good families” are winning the battle even though their six percent delinquency rate is still a tragedy for them.69 But the growing concentration of urban families without husbands and/or fathers is a dangerous portent for future crime. Crime is bad and it is going to get worse.70

The reasons for declining marriage rates (especially among blacks), and the accompanying increase in the numbers of children born out of wedlock, are not entirely clear. Certainly, a disproportionate rate of welfare recipiency among African-Americans must partly be to blame. In 1993, for example, of parents receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the primary form of welfare payment until the reforms of 1996, 36.6 percent were black, according to the Public Agenda group71 The black proportion of the national population is about 12 percent. For decades, women receiving AFDC were given no federal incentive to marry. If she married an employed male, a woman receiving AFDC would almost automatically lose her benefits. Thus, if welfare-receiving mothers’ primary concern was to retain their benefits, and blacks had a greater rate of recipiency than other groups, then illegitimacy was bound to be higher among African-Americans.

This said, Christopher Jencks, a sociology professor at Northwestern University who may by no stretch of the imagination be dismissed a reactionary, convincingly argues that the welfare explanation is not enough. He notes that African-American – and other races’ – rates of illegitimacy have risen constantly since the 1960s, showing no correlation with the rising and falling purchasing power of welfare payments. Theoretically, as the value of benefits decreases, marriage should appear more economically appealing, leading to increased rates of matrimony.72 Jencks also notes that the ratio of employed black men to all black women has remained reasonably constant over the past three or four decades (varying between .70 and .63).73 In other words, it is not as though there are now proportionately fewer black men available and able to support a family. Professor Jencks settles for a cultural explanation, to wit, that we are currently witnessing the culmination of the revision of sexual attitudes that started in the 1960s. Jencks continues, “These changes almost certainly improved the lives of the educated elite…. For less privileged couples, however, the demise of traditional norms about marriage and divorce posed more serious problems.”74 These problems today include crime, poverty and a host of other social pathologies.

The research is clear: The best indicator of future criminality is single-parenthood, which is unfortunately epidemic in the black community. Using racism as an explanation of criminality, particularly in Baltimore City, is unconvincing. A black mayor, a black prosecutor, a black cabinet secretary at DJJ and substantial representation in both the police force and the judiciary – all these make the racism excuse untenable. The Townsend and Curran reports fail to see – or at least to tackle – the issue of fatherless homes. The subject is too sensitive, too uncomfortable. It is easier to blame police targeting of black neighborhoods and the drug trade for African-American “over-representation” in the juvenile justice system.75

Conveniently, the data used by the task force to conclude that blacks are disproportionately in at the “deep end” of the juvenile justice system did not control for family structure. The author of the research utilized by the task force, Lakshmi Iyengar, when questioned at a meeting on November 20, 1995 by Lieutenant Governor Townsend, acknowledged – astonishingly – that she had not controlled for family factors, such as single parenthood.76 A one-hour trip to your local library provides the answers that Dr. Iyengar was unable to ferret out.


There are corroborating statistics that indicate that fatherlessness is the real factor influencing delinquency. The facts are stark and the facts are these: Over the U.S. as a whole, 25.3 percent of families with children are headed by single females. Not to be outdone, that proportion in Maryland rises to 27.9 percent. Maryland ranks ninth-highest among the states in terms of families headed by single mothers.77 But this pales to insignificance if Baltimore is considered separately. In Charm City, in 1990, no fewer than 46.1 percent of all families with children were headed by a single parent, the vast majority of them female. This is illustrated in figure 5. Among American cities, Baltimore ranked fifth.78

According to the last census, in Maryland in 1990 there were: 3,396,261 whites; 1,188,930 blacks; and 137,663 Asians and/or Pacific Islanders. These represented the three largest racial groups in the state.79 Naturally, these figures are by now slightly dated, but let us assume that the racial proportionality has remained the same. That is, Maryland is 72 percent white, 25 percent black, and 3 percent Asian, with all other ethnic groups amounting to less than one percent.

However reluctant we as a society may be to discuss it, there are significant statistical differences in marriage patterns among these groups. According to the census, and as shown in Table<4/a> , there were in Maryland 348,819 white, married-couple families with their own children under age 18 in 1990. There were 49,049 white, female-headed households with no husband present with children under age 18.80 In other words, the number of white, female-headed households came to 14 percent of the number of white, married households. That same year, there were 77,184 black, traditional-family households with children. But there were also 67,922 black female-headed households with children. This figure represented 88 percent of the number of two-parent black families.81 In the Asian community, there were 17,538 married families with children versus 1,492 female-headed households with children, representing only 8.5 percent of the Asian married households.82

The ratios for Baltimore City are even more pronounced. In 1990, there were 19,486 two-parent white families with children, compared with 5,034 white, female-only households with children. The latter represented 26 percent of the two-parent white families.83 Of the black households in Baltimore City, there were 16,623 married families with children. But there were 30,851 black female-headed households with children, representing 186 percent of the stable, two-parent black families.84 Put another way, Baltimore City’s African-American community has about twice as many female-headed families as traditional two-parent families. This is a calamity. The absence of a father in the home has repeatedly been correlated with teenagers’ propensity for crime. That the Townsend report does not discuss this issue is an oversight indeed – if a politically correct oversight.

Fatherlessness is a root cause of crime neglected by the Townsend report. In the 78-page report, illegitimacy is touched upon a mere five times. This is a scandal. For the problem of illegitimacy is as overwhelming and as important as it is sensitive. According to Heritage Foundation analyst Robert E. Moffit:

The professional literature shows that the failure of fathers to care for the children they bring into this world is at the heart of violent crime. Absent fathers, absent mothers, parental fighting and domestic violence, lack of parental supervision and discipline of children, and criminality among parents themselves all are conditions that contribute to the creation of a violent criminal, and all are most present in the social atmosphere created by broken families and illegitimacy.85

Both the Curran and Townsend reports sidestep the relationship between illegitimacy and delinquency.

The mere fact that a mother is a teenager when she gives birth, or happens to unmarried at the time of the pregnancy, is not crucial to delinquency. The permanent lack of a father is the significant portent. In short, the growth of the number of juvenile delinquent males today is linked directly to the growth of the female-headed family. Without adult male supervision, young men soon stray from the straight and narrow. Males consistently represent 80 to 90 percent of the juvenile delinquency problem.86 Meanwhile, according the U.S. Census, in 80 percent of the single-parent households in Maryland with children under 18, that parent is the mother, not the father.87 Granted, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Nonetheless, the implications are clear: Being brought up by a single mother is a good indicator that the son will become delinquent.

This modern form of family disintegration – or more accurately non-formation, for generally the families were never intact to begin with – has its consequences on criminal behavior patterns. The growth in crime is paralleled by the growth in families abandoned by fathers. Figure 6 makes this plain. Moffit further explains:

While crime is highest in socially disorganized, largely urban neighborhoods, however, its frequency is not a function of race. The determining factor is the absence of marriage. Among broken families, with their chaotic, “dysfunctional” relationships, whether white or black, the crime rate is very high; among married, two-parent families, whether white or black, the crime rate is very low. The capacity and determination to maintain stable, married relationships, not race, is the pivotal factor. The chaotic, broken community stems from these chaotic, broken families. The reason race appears to be an important factor in crime is the prevalence of wide differences in marriage rates among ethnic groups.88

There once was a time when the connection between fatherless homes and neighborhood thuggery would have been considered axiomatic. Sad to say, such times are no longer. Now, the issue is clouded by the political agenda of sociologists and by the red herring of race. Regardless, the results of illegitimacy are dire. In 1992, “the poverty rate for single-parent, female-headed families with children (46%) was nearly six times higher than the poverty rate for married-couple families with children (8%).”89

The 1988 National Health Interview Survey on Child Health compared children from never-married mothers with children living with both birth parents. The survey found that the children of never-married mothers were (a) more likely to be in the lower-achieving half of their class in school, 60 percent to 38 percent; (b) more than twice as likely to have repeated a grade, 33 percent to 13 percent; and (c) three times more likely to expelled from school, 17 percent to five percent.90

Moreover, research done by Congressional Budget Office Director June O’Neill, found that being born out of wedlock and raised in single-parent homes: (a) tripled children’s level of behavioral and emotional problems, (b) tripled the level of teen sexual activity; (c) doubled the probability that young women would themselves bear illegitimate children; and (d) doubled the probability that boys would engage in crime.93

Likewise, Wade F. Horn, a child psychologist, reported to Congress last year: “Violent criminals are overwhelmingly males who grew up without fathers, including 60 percent of America’s rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 70 percent of juveniles in state reform institutions.”94 Additionally, William Niskanen of the Cato Institute conducted a scientific study of the root causes of crime in which he found that “a 1 percentage point increase in births to single mothers appears to increase the violent crime rate by about 1.7 percent.”95

To restate the issue, it is not the age or unweddedness of the mother at the time of the pregnancy that is important; it is the abandonment by the father that is crucial. This is not discussed in the Townsend and Curran reports. Responsibility dictates that it should be.

It is interesting to note that, while the task force cannot find it within itself to condemn illegitimacy, it does hint at the problem. Reference is made to “family breakdown,”92 for example. Similarly, “developing family problem-solving abilities” is held to be an effective way of reducing recidivism.93 In these instances, family ties are acknowledged to be important. So why stop there? If family values may be described as an effective means of addressing recidivism, why can the report not go one step further? Why can it not see illegitimacy – the inverse of traditional family norms – as being a seriously contributing factor to delinquency in the first place? In fact, the Townsend report is all too well aware of the illegitimacy’s detrimental effects upon social order but, fearing liberal disapproval should light be shed on the situation, its authors have chosen not to discuss the issue.

V. Action Plan: For Maryland and the Future

In this section, the authors make various proposals, ranging from specific policies to larger-scale societal changes, that Maryland needs to adopt in order to combat juvenile crime. Broadly speaking, we start our recommendations with the narrow and specific and progress to the broader and philosophical.