Youth Jail in Limbo

Youth Jail in Limbo

Activists wage a late push to stop the construction and planning of a new youth and women’s jail complex in downtown Baltimore.

A few days prior to the 2010 Maryland election, protesters rallied in east Baltimore near the prospective site for a new youth and women’s jail. Several hundred people were in attendance to show their support. During the event, community leaders and politicians expressed their concerns regarding the construction of the $181 million dollar youth and women’s jail complex. The project has cost the state of Maryland $12 million in planning alone over the past 5 years. Activists marched to the site of the prospective jail location chanting “Educate! don’t incarcerate!” while a small cohort, who were willing to risk arrest broke the locks off the fence surrounding the site and placed signs and books on the premise opposing the construction of the jail.

A separate women’s and juvenile complex was proposed by the U.S. Justice Department in the year 2000, when they discovered several violations concerning fire safety and sanitation regulations within the Baltimore City Detention Center. In 2007, a projection report conducted by the state estimated that the number of juvenile’s charged as adults would be doubled by the year 2035 and that a new complex is needed to suit this growth. While, the current facility is over crowded and houses violent, adult offenders along with a mixture of women and teens who are exposed to these unsafe conditions. There are many questions and concerns among protesters.

Advocates and activist believe that a new jail complex is a social and economic waste. The primary question is: how can there be $181 million dollars in the budget to build a new prison complex during a recession? If this amount of funding is available then the money should be redirected to recreational centers and youth programs which reduce youth incarceration. City residents are sick and tired of seeing recreational centers closed down and budget cuts on programs that support the youth in their neighborhoods.

During several community organized meetings, activist were outraged and offered more sensible solutions and alternatives to better spend the money. Many advocates believe that the money would be better spent on recreational centers, youth education, trade programs, family counseling, anti-gang campaigns and career workshops. The United States Justice Department has understood for a long time that allocating resources for intervention programs can reduce the rate of juvenile detention and recidivism. For example, the DOJ’s April 2000 “Juvenile Justice Bulletin” cited research that found consistent evidence that supports counseling and rehabilitation programs are critical for the health and recovery of juvenile crime offenders. Ironically, the DOJ introduced and continues to support the construction of the youth jail.

 Currently the jail complex is in limbo due to poor planning by the state and falsified estimation methods by the Department of Public Safety(DPS). For instance, in July 2010 the National Council on Crime and Delinquency(NCCD) released research stating that the DPS 2007 forecast that estimated youth crime rates and space needed to retain offenders is “unreliable”. “While DPS projected a need for a 178 beds by 2010, as of May of this year there were just 92 youth held in the current facility, just over 50% of the DPS forecast”. Also, the NCCD strongly recommends that the DPS conducts new research using current youth-specific data, and more reliable methodology.

Hopefully, activist can take advantage of the current limbo. Governor O’Malley has deferred funding for the new jail from the fiscal year 2012 to the fiscal year 2013. Activists feel that this is a notable but temporary victory, and realize that they need to stay organized and continue to march in the same direction to completely reach their ultimate goal of no jail. After all, what kind of message are we sending to our youth when we take away educational programs, close recreational centers, tear down outdoor basketball courts and replace it with a prison. A prison that intends to be used to its highest capacity and designed strictly for our youth. We should connect these children and teens with positive people within positive institutions instead of limiting their opportunities for success by locking them away from society.