Maryland on Track to Comply with Federal Juvenile Detention Rules

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ANNAPOLIS — After at least two years of noncompliance and threats of funding cuts from the U.S. Department of Justice, Maryland appears to be on track for compliance with federal rules meant to protect juveniles from interacting with adult offenders when they're detained in adult facilities.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) requires that juveniles not be detained in facilities that hold adults for more than six hours, or 24 hours in rural areas, while awaiting transfer to a juvenile facility, a court hearing or processing.

In 2008, Maryland had a rate of 43.48 juveniles per 100,000 juvenile population of the state held with adults for more than six hours, nearly five times the allowed rate of "9 per 100,000 juvenile population of the state." In 2009, 19.13 juveniles per 100,000 juvenile population of the state were held in adult facilities for more than six hours, totaling 287 violations.

The most recent numbers show significant improvement. Preliminary 2010 compliance monitoring data analyzed by Capital News Service shows that the state's adult facilities held juveniles for more than six hours at a rate of 6.07 per 100,000 youth population, with 83 overall incidents. This puts Maryland well within federal guidelines and eligible for its full federal allocation.

Advocates say separation from adults is essential for youth in detention. Youth held in adult facilities face higher rates of abuse and even suicide.

Potential compliance is a relief to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the agency responsible for monitoring and educating facilities on the JJDPA core protections, including the six-hour removal requirement. "We've been working it. We have been working very intensely with the local agencies to make sure they are in compliance," said Bill Toohey, director of communications for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. "The federal government found some issues that need to be resolved and we're working on resolving them."

While the overall news for 2010 is good, there are still concentrated areas of noncompliance. Preliminary data from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention shows that nine facilities made up 61 percent of the states' six-hour rule violations.

The Baltimore Police East District precinct (13 violations), the Baltimore County Detention Center (10 violations), the Prince George's County Department of Corrections (nine violations), four Baltimore County police precincts (nine total violations), the Prince George's County Police Department District 3 Palmer Park precinct (five violations), and the Elkton Police Department (five violations), made up 51 of the state's 83 instances where juveniles were held in adult facilities for more than six hours.

These violations were largely chalked up to reporting errors by the facilities. The 2010 data is preliminary and still under review by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

At the Baltimore County Detention Center, which only holds juveniles who have been charged as adults, administrator Jim O'Neill said he is confident that no juveniles are held in the facility in violation of federal rules. "I can say with a pretty good sense of certainty that these are all clerical errors," said O'Neill, who pointed out that the detention center has 16,000 people go through intake and another 16,000 released each year, so the 10 instances in question are a "miniscule" number.

Similarly, in Baltimore County, nine violations among the Pikesville, Towson, Cockeysville and Parkville precincts represent a very small percentage of the overall juvenile population that comes through the county's police departments. Each instance was documented by the police, and found to have special circumstances surrounding the event.

"We encounter thousands of juveniles annually," said Lt. Robert McCullough, director of media relations for the Baltimore County Police Department. This is a very small portion … where we experienced a problem with the six-hour rule. When you look into this small number of cases, there are always special circumstances. For us, it's about quality control and accurately reporting the information. We're making every effort to comply with the law."

Prince George's County Department of Corrections director Mary Lou McDonough said she was confident that their violations are, "simply a record keeping error in the preliminary FY2010 report and (they) will be corrected prior to the report being finalized." The Department of Corrections only holds juveniles who have been charged as adults.

Record keeping was noted as a problem in previous years. A 2009 compliance monitoring report noted that of the 278 cases where the six-hour rule was violated, 91 of those violations were record-keeping errors.

Advocates are pleased that the numbers are going down, but are still adamant that juveniles should never be held in adult facilities, even for fewer than six hours.

"Obviously, the advocates would like to see that no juvenile is held (in an adult facility), even if he's charged as an adult, but if the numbers are going down, that's a good thing," said Shelly Tinney, executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Family and Youth.