Pending placement

March 15, 2006

It's not terribly surprising that Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services has too many youths in detention who belong in treatment programs. Having large numbers of youngsters waiting to be placed in appropriate settings is a long-standing problem that has been exacerbated by last year's closing of most long-term beds at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School without adequate replacements. In addition, the system lacks sufficient and appropriate services for youths with mental or emotional problems. What's so frustrating is that these problems were predictable - and predicted - and that the state has not acted faster to do something about them.

Detention centers are generally used to hold youths for short periods between the time that they are charged with crimes and when their cases are heard in court. But once the case has been adjudicated, a recent report showed, many youngsters remain in detention for an additional six weeks, on average, pending placement in the right program. Some youngsters waiting to be placed are violent, and many others suffer from mental, emotional or developmental disabilities.

In the meantime, youths who are presumed innocent are forced to share overcrowded quarters with those who have been judged guilty. And the guilty youngsters deserve to start serving their time, with proper services, as quickly as possible. DJS is getting ready to solicit bids for a 48-bed facility that could take up some of the slack from closing part of Hickey, but any new program probably wouldn't be up and running before late summer. There needs to be a much greater sense of urgency to come up with short- and long-term solutions - including more out-of-state placements if necessary and more aggressive efforts to develop in-state programs. The current situation is intolerable.

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