After years of protest, youth advocates, city and state officials, and community leaders saw a positive return on their efforts to stop the construction of a $70 million, 120- bed youth jail in downtown Baltimore.
The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJS) and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) announced an alternative plan in a statement last week that now, instead of the jail, calls for Baltimore to designate space for a “regional treatment facility” by October, something the city has been unable to do.
The Baltimore City Detention Center for youth was originally supposed to house youth who are charged as adults and currently locked away in the adult detention center, also downtown.
“From the numbers prospective, we’ve seen juvenile crime, violent acts, and arrest rates go down,” said Councilman Nick Mosby. “It was really hard to grasp why we needed to spend so much money on an institution that wouldn’t have a major impact on the lives of Baltimore youth.”
Mosby said the cancellation “shows that people can come together and have their voices heard all the way to Annapolis.”
“I commend all the people on the ground floor who worked and worked, as well as legislators from Gov. Martin O’Malley on down to everyone else that was involved and truly listened.”
According to end of the year reports released by the Office of the Mayor, there were 10 juveniles in 2012 involved in crimes that took human life and 15 youth involved in shootings.
In 2011, the number was 15 for juvenile homicides and 29 for non-fatal shootings involving youth.
Statistics from DJS report that on a state level, crime of a violent nature is down 30 percent since 2007. This has led to a 34 percent drop in the number of children in DJS facilities, and a 69 percent decrease in the number of juveniles inside DPSCS facilities.
Aside from the regional treatment facility, the alternative plan also calls for the renovation of the Baltimore City Prerelease Unit, located inside DPSCS’ current Baltimore City complex. This facility will be for youth offenders and will provide “health, mental health services, treatment programming, education and vocational training infrastructure, and recreational space,” according to the DJS statement.
Originally, the plan, which has been in the works since 2005, called for a more than $100 million to go into a facility with at least 180 beds for youth.
Outcry from the community and legislators caused O’Malley to commission a report by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) in 2011. That report gave many alternatives to building the multi-million dollar facility and cut roughly $30 million from the project budget.
The report suggested the city revamp its policy and require all juveniles to have their bail either set or denied within two days, knocking more than two weeks off the 19 days some youth have to wait. The report also called for no more than 30 days to pass before youth have their hearing, which in some scenarios currently takes up to 88 days.
The new plan falls more in line with what community leaders, council members, and state senators have said they want to see done when it comes to wrap-around care for juveniles who commit crimes.
Patricia Roberts-Rose, a Baltimore area clinical social worker for 13 years said that the city foregoing plans to build the proposed youth detention facility is one move in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
“If you’re providing them with education, counseling, and things of that nature, you’re giving them more of a chance and an opportunity to become a productive citizen,” she told the AFRO. “It’s a step, but there are other things we need to do. We can’t do a treatment center in isolation.”
“What are we going to do in the schools? What are we going to do in the community in addition to changing this one aspect?”
Roberts-Rose said treatment centers may work for some children because it puts them in an environment different from detention centers, where those never exposed to prison culture simply learn how to better commit crimes. However, the new plans won’t fully benefit everyone.
“It definitely won’t be a ‘one-size fits all’ deal,” she said, because the city will undoubtedly still see some violent youth and children with chronic criminal behavior.