Northwest youth center plan opposed

March 16, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

An overflow crowd of more than 300 people jammed into a meeting in Northwest Baltimore last night to protest a proposed juvenile justice center on Wabash Avenue.

Baltimore County residents and city dwellers told state officials not to build the center in their community.

"Not here, take it somewhere else," one person in the crowd at the Baltimore Red Cross headquarters yelled as Maryland Juvenile Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar described the center.

Residents said they feared crime would result from the center's presence, and that middle class residents would leave the community. Some also said the community has done its part to house facilities -- including bus and train maintenance operations and a courthouse -- that benefit the entire city.

Ms. Saar said the seven-acre site in the 5900 block of Wabash Ave., near the Reisterstown Plaza Metro Station, was the best choice of the 23 locations considered for the center. And she said Baltimore needed to bring together a detention center, social services, public defender's offices and state's attorney's offices.

Officials say the center would ease a shortage of jail space for juveniles and would shorten the time between arrest and court hearings. It takes an average of 325 days from the time a juvenile is arrested to the completion of his case, they said.

"Everyone who is a parent in here knows that you don't wait weeks or months to deal with behavior that you don't approve of," Ms. Saar said.

Judge David B. Mitchell said the center would blend in with the community. The youths aren't likely to hang around surrounding neighborhoods to cause trouble, he added.

"Nobody wants anything like this in their neighborhood, I understand that," he said. "But when you're against this, you're looking at worst case scenarios. There is no need for an irrational fear simply because it's the unknown."

State officials stressed that this is not a prison and that it would be difficult for detainees to escape. Juveniles would be held in the 144-bed detention center only to await hearings.

But that didn't allay the fears of Paul Bradford of the Brighton community. He said he recently bought a new home in the neighborhood and is concerned about the safety of his 6-year-old daughter.

"If I had known they were going to put a prison here I wouldn't have bought the home," he said.

Controversy has dogged the proposed center before.

In January, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sparked a controversy when he announced that a site south of Cold Spring Lane, west of the Jones Fall Expressway, was being considered for the center and a new Northern District police station.

Several area businesses and community groups quickly banded together to oppose the center.

This month, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services said the Wabash Avenue tract was the best location for the center. The site is owned by the Mass Transit Administration.

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