Residents oppose state's plan for a juvenile detention center

January 07, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The state secretary of juvenile services found little support at a meeting with Carroll County officials and residents yesterday for a proposed 74-bed Sykesville Detention Center that would serve Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties.

Secretary Mary Ann Saar also said the state would not proceed with the proposed $5,525,000 renovation of the Lane Building at Springfield Hospital Center in South Carroll if residents and county officials remained "vehemently opposed" to it.

Ms. Saar made that statement in a meeting late yesterday with County Commissioner Donald I. Dell, several Carroll legislators and several South Carroll residents at Springfield.

Kathleen Horneman, of the South Carroll Coalition, said she understood the department's problems but remains opposed to the facility for security reasons.

"We have an incredible amount of elopements from this facility and a police force unable to deal with them," Ms. Horneman said.

Ms. Saar assured her that the planned facility would be secure, totally locked down with all appropriate hardware and fencing.

"I understand what you are saying," Ms. Saar said. "We are not going to do this if you are vehemently opposed. I am only asking for a fair shake."

The secretary said that about 20,000 children, ages 11 to 18, moved through the state's Department of Juvenile Services in 1991. Every juvenile detention facility in the state is overcrowded by an average of 140 youths.

Since expanding existing facilities is the most cost-effective solution, the state is looking at Springfield's vacant buildings as a solution to overcrowding problems, she told a gathering of citizens and public officials at Springfield.

Mr. Dell said Carroll is becoming the state's "scapegoat."

State Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, suggested that the proposed center might be "just the beginning of a major prison system" at Springfield.

"The empty buildings here make it a natural place for the state to look," said Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll. "We have done our share here . . . This county doesn't look on prisons as economic development. You will have a difficult time getting funding for this project."

Mr. Dixon said the county already has the Laundry Facility, which is a minimum security prison at Springfield. It has doubled in size in the last two years. There are also two juvenile facilities where most of the youths are not Carroll residents. He said he wants future facilities to be built in the areas where most offenders live.

Ms. Saar said she did not have the exact number of Carroll County's juvenile offenders, but said that in 1991, 9 percent of the state's total number came from Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.

And she contended that the facilities are secure. "Kids in detention centers don't go out," she said. "They are surrounded by a security fence."

"The state hasn't earned the right to build a facility for bad children in this county," said Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll.

"Other jurisdictions don't care enough about their children. Here, we are trying to keep them out of jails."

Ms. Saar said the issue is where can the state put a facility to serve the three-county area.

"We need to deal with all our youngsters," she said. "We must try to do the best we know how, within the funds available, to place them in safe facilities where they will get the services they need."

The Sykesville Detention Center would house youths, for an average of 23 days, until the courts decide where they should be placed, she said, contending that detention close to home areas facilitates transportation to courts, physicians and psychiatric assessments.

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