Inmate rehab plan is on hold

Program sought to put mothers, babies together

Mount Vernon site rejected

Residents raise objections during meeting at library

August 07, 2002|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A pioneering plan to rehabilitate female prisoners who have babies while in custody was at least temporarily shelved last night after Mount Vernon residents turned out in force to attack the proposed location of another social program in their neighborhood.

Tamar's Children, a $5 million program, is meant to be one of the first in the country to keep inmates with their babies in a special facility after they give birth.

But neighbors of the latest site proposed for the project - a building at 509 Cathedral St. that in recent years has been a halfway house for offenders from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center - vowed last night that Tamar's Children would never open there.

Stuart O. Simms, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, announced that the program would not go forward at that site after being excoriated at a two-hour public meeting at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street. More than 100 Mount Vernon residents and business owners vented their outrage at getting just a few days' notice about the plan.

"We're starting tomorrow with a new plan," he said. "There is no sense in continuing the community meeting and dialogue. ... All of this was premised on the fact of some community acceptance."

While saying they did not oppose the project itself, Mount Vernon residents said they had too many outreach centers, halfway houses and feeding programs in the area.

"I think people are very glad that they won, and they're wondering why they were put through all this," said Charles B. Duff, executive director of the Midtown Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that works to restore buildings in Mount Vernon. "The people I really feel sorry for are the people who are trying to make this program happen, because it sounds like a wonderful program."

For years, neighbors have urged Associated Catholic Charities of Maryland to move Our Daily Bread, which feeds hundreds of people a day nearby at Cathedral and Franklin streets.

"How can we put $50 million into the Walters and put women who are incarcerated next to me?" said Judy Burch, a therapist who has an office next door to the proposed site.

Tamar's Children has been delayed by tussles over whether the state would pay for medical care for the women, and time limits are looming to spend federal grant money for the project.

A grant of more than $1.5 million from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention solved the medical care problem, along with an agreement for a nonprofit organization, Threshold Inc., to provide security for the program. Threshold operates a prerelease program for prisoners in the 1700 block of St. Paul St.

Maryland's prisons and jails, like most around the country, don't allow babies to stay with their mothers in prison.

Tamar's Children was to change that for mothers held for nonviolent offenses at either the Baltimore City Detention Center or the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

The plan was to break a potential family cycle of crime by letting mothers stay with their babies, receiving treatment for trauma, drug abuse and other problems. The women would stay for at least six months after birth, after which they would be released to subsidized housing and continue to receive treatment for a year.

Twelve to 16 women give birth in Maryland jails and prisons each year.

Earlier this year, officials planned to house the women and newborns at a state facility on the campus of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Northwest Baltimore. But a burgeoning inmate population forced prison officials to use that site for other inmates.

Tamar's Children officials then hit upon the Cathedral Street building, known as Hamilton House, which had been vacant for about 18 months after serving as a halfway house for 30 years.

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