State programs for juveniles promote safety...


November 21, 1999

State programs for juveniles promote safety, accountability

Despite criticism of my leadership of the Department of Juvenile Justice from some members of the advocacy community, the department is making significant strides in fulfulling our mission to reduce youth crime and violence ("Juvenile justice chief disappoints early high hopes," Nov. 12).

Arrests for violent juvenile crime in Maryland fell 16 percent in 1998, following a 7 percent drop the year before. This is the direct result of the department's new partnerships with law enforcement, schools and communities, and our new emphasis on public safety and offender accountability.

During my tenure, the Glendening-Townsend administration has launched many successful initiatives aimed at intervening early to reduce juvenile crime and hold youth responsible for their actions. "Spotlight on Schools" places probation officers into schools to monitor students already under our supervision and make schools safer.

Through the "HotSpot Communities Initiative," the department partners with police and community members to reduce crime where it is most severe.

The "Break the Cycle" and Drug Court programs use treatment, frequent urine testing and escalating penalties for failed tests to motivate substance-abusing teen-agers to get off and stay off drugs and alcohol. Community Conferencing, Teen Courts, Neighborhood Youth Panels, and Youth Tribunals have been put in place to sanction first-time offenders.

In contrast to past practice, all our programs stress the youth's responsibility to pay back the community and victim through monetary restitution or community service work.

In spite of these community-based efforts, youth who pose a threat to others must be held in a secure setting. To meet the demand for detention beds, we are now constructing the 144-bed Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.

A 24-bed regional detention center is planned for Hagerstown and a similar facility is planned for the Lower Eastern Shore.

Much more must be done to improve juvenile justice in our state, and I welcome the recommendations of the advocacy community to further the progress. However, the department must balance the needs of delinquent youth with the need for citizens to be safe in their homes.

Gilberto de Jesus, Baltimore

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.

In schools or community, troubled kids still a problem

The Sun's Nov. 12 lead articles were cleverly juxtaposed: an article critiquing the management style of Gilberto de Jesus as head of the state's Department of Juvenile Justice, a department that is chronically overwhelmed by its mammoth task (Juvenile justice chief disappoints early high hopes"); and an article showing that crime in city schools is down from last year, mostly because of a tougher "zero tolerance" policy ("School crime wanes in city").

Can we have it both ways -- crime in schools down without more problems in the community?


When will it be fully and responsibly acknowledged that these are the same children acting out, whether in the schools or getting arrested in the community?

The schools may be quieter because they have gotten rid of "the problems."

Yet these children are still around, rubbing shoulders with those who go to school -- after hours and on weekends and, many times, hanging around the school grounds.

Students often have friends who don't go to school.

Group fights often start in the community, then move into the school and continue to cycle back and forth.

It's nice that schools are quieter for now, but the problem of out-of-control and unsupervised children and adolescents involved with violence and crime has only moved to a wider locale.

Rather than compartmentalize and deny, we need to take a holistic approach.

We must focus on how young people wound up in their crisis situations -- and concentrate onhow to help, wherever we find them.

Joyce Wolpert, Baltimore

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