Young offenders get realistic view of life if they continue with crime

July 28, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Correctional Officer Milton Bailey told the 11 visitors: "I know you think you're hard, but this 6-by-9 cell is the equalizer."

"I know a guy who killed himself" in a cellblock, he said. "He couldn't handle it.

Mr. Bailey was introducing the group of male teen-agers to the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup. The youngsters were court-ordered to tour the 175-person jail.

The two-hour visit is part of the Juvenile Visitation Program, which began in October. Every third Wednesday, boys visit, and every other month, girls visit. The youngsters are between 11 and 18, and have committed burglary, trespassing and other less serious crimes.

Officials from juvenile services and the jail hope it will help deflate the ballooning number of juvenile crimes, especially violent ones.

Last year, for example, there were 45,824 juvenile cases in Maryland, said Jacqueline Lampell, of state juvenile services. In Howard County, there were 879.

Unlike the well-known Scared Straight program, this non-confrontational program presents facts, and lets the youngsters decide, Correctional Officer Robert Baldwin said. "The environment is intimidating enough," he said.

"The idea isn't to scare them, but to show them a slice of reality," said Mark McNeill, a jail official.

The jail's director, James W. Rollins, helped create the program, which uses a volunteer staff.

"We're batting 1,000," Mr. Bailey said. "They come in, and we don't see them come back."

As soon as the 11 youths stepped behind the iron bars, they were under the control of correctional officers.

"Get those hats off!" Mr. Bailey roared. He ordered them to put their possessions in manila envelopes and to take the number inside it. "You no longer have a name, you're a number," he said.

Handcuffs, ankle shackles and waist restraints, they learned, compose the jail's "three-piece suit," which one youngster volunteered to wear.

For the tour, ponytails were loosened, and all the youths had to "assume the position" to be searched. They were ordered to walk in a single file throughout the jail.

Upstairs in "Housing Unit H2," the visitors observed the cold, barred world of 21 men who share one cell and its gray toilet.

An inmate in another cell shouted, "Come on in here, girl," as the youths walked by.

Prior to the tour, they watched a videotape, in which inmates serving life sentences at the Maryland Penitentiary, rapped a song called, "You Don't Want to Be a Hustler." The prisoners, including Mr. Baldwin's best friend in high school, also discussed how the overcrowded prison had stifled their lives.

When the videotape ended, a discussion followed. One youth said he felt sorry for the lifers. Another said, "You do the crime, you do the time."

Those jailed are at risk of violent attacks from makeshift weapons, sexual assaults and the HIV virus, the officers said. "Only the strong survive," Mr. Bailey said repeatedly.

Before leaving, Bill, 16, who was charged with malicious destruction of an automobile in February, said the tour opened his eyes.

"I've been trying not to mess up and that sort of convinced me," the Ellicott City resident said.

But Joe, 17, of Harper's Choice, who was charged with burglary this year, said although he learned something, he couldn't promise not to break the law.

That, he said, "depends on the mood I'm in."

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