African-Americans bear brunt of state's juvenile...

Letters to the Editor

July 03, 1999

African-Americans bear brunt of state's juvenile incarceration

The Sun is to be congratulated on its recent article about how race influences whether Maryland`s Juvenile Justice system places young people in rehabilitative or punitive settings ("Race predicts handling of many young criminals," June 25).

Despite the fact that juvenile crime declined in Maryland last year, the number of youths detained actually rose. African Americans from Baltimore were hit particularly hard by increased detention.

African Americans make up 17 percent of the state's population, 39 percent of juvenile arrests and 74 percent of those in secure detention.

Most of Baltimore City's detained youth go to the notorious Cheltenham Youth Facility, which was founded in 1870 as the House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Children. Eighty-one percent of Cheltenham's inmates are African-American. Only 12 percent of those sent there were charged with violent offenses.

If non-violent, white, middle class youths were incarcerated in nightmarish facilities in similar numbers, a state of emergency would be declared. The state would create programs to keep them in their communities and rehabilitate them close to home.

We should do no less for African Americans.

Vincent Schiraldi, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Other disparities, problems face state's juvenile system

Another brewing juvenile justice crisis in Maryland is a lack of appropriate mental health resources for disturbed children. We do not seem to have state juvenile mental treatment facilities that are comprehensive and specialized.

Instead of being sent by the state to an appropriate treatment facility, mentally ill children are often put on supervised probation, with the understanding that the parents will use their own insurance and resources to them private treatment.

Specialized juvenile cases have been sent to such states as Massachusetts for treatment, at triple the cost of in-state care.

And, in addition to the racial disparities The Sun reported, gender inequality is a problem. The Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court has programs such as Drug Court and Big Brother services that are available only to boys.

Many violent and drug-addicted girls in the criminal justice system could be helped with that sort of rehabilitation.

A third difficulty with the juvenile cases is a lack of desirable after-care and foster families.

We expect parents to provide the primary nurturing and moral instruction to their children. But many children are lucky if there is one capable and fit parent to look after them.

When parents fail, and a child is removed from the home, few good options exist.

Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Baltimore

School discipline patterns also vary with race

The Sun's headline "Race predicts handling of many young criminals" (June 25) might have easily read, "race predicts handling of school discipline problems."

In nearly ten years of practice as a lawyer (and nearly 30 years of involvement in the criminal justice system) I have witnessed a similar "misdiagnosis" of non-white students cited for disciplinary offenses in classrooms staffed by certain Baltimore city and county teachers.

The major complaint of my clients has been that white students who committed the same acts as black students were not expelled or suspended as often as were blacks. Black students are more readily deemed "bad" than "sick."

I have to conclude that the differential treatment of blacks may also be reflected in a disproportionate number of blacks who drop out of school.

William A. Dorsey, Baltimore

Time for city schools to make some changes

I think it's unfortunate that the teachers the city recently fired are now out of a job and The Sun's reporters took appropriate notice of their plight ("Baltimore fires 278 teachers," June 24).

But what about the thousands of city students and their families who pay high taxes and do not feel comfortable sending their children to city schools?

We constantly hear about the rights of teachers and administrators. What about the rights of the students to a safe and academically adequate school?

As a city resident and a mother of elementary school age children, I find it frustrating to see how much foot-dragging goes on whenever anyone tries to improve to improve the city school system.

It is not only fear of crime that drives residents from the city, but inadequate schools and poor city services.

I am a life long city resident and I am not ready to move out just yet. But I hope to see some attention to these problems from the candidates for mayor.

It would be nice to see some real improvements, not just talk.

Andrea O'Neill, Baltimore

Now that the Baltimore City school system has acted by firing principals and 278 teachers, the news is full of accusations that this action was unfair. But if any other organization had the kind of results the city schools have recorded, people would have been fired long ago.

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