Governor, lawmakers tour new juvenile justice center

First youths to be moved to city facility in October

April 22, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

On a tour of the new $45 million Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center on North Gay Street yesterday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called the "impressive facility" a good investment for Maryland taxpayers.

At the event, also attended by City Council members, legislators and court officials, state Juvenile Justice Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. announced that Phyllis D.K. Hildreth has been named managing director of the new center, which is to open in stages beginning next month.

Hildreth, 45, is a former deputy secretary of the department and once was chief counsel for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

More than 800 employees will work at the center, which will house up to 144 youths for stays of 30 to 45 days, officials said.

In addition to administrative offices, the center will include the juvenile division of Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the juvenile division of the state's attorney and public defender's offices, and related offices.

Hildreth said she and her administrative staff plan to move to the new facility on May 1. The court's juvenile division will relocate there in early September, and the first youths will be moved into its dormitories in October.

The center was originally projected to open in July 2001, but the opening was delayed for various reasons, including problems during construction.

Advocates say they would like the center to open sooner than October so that youths can be moved out of inadequate and dangerous quarters at Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County.

"Children have been hurt there, and we're not talking about the distant past," said Sharon E. Rubinstein, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition.

Though eager for Cheltenham to close, Rubinstein and other advocates say they wish the detention facilities at the new center had not been designed with such a harsh, prison-like environment.

"This isn't the fault of the current administration, but what they've built is a prison, and that's antithetical to what is regarded as best practices [in the juvenile justice field] today," said Jim McComb, executive director of Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth.

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