State to shut shelter for juveniles in city

October 04, 2007|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

The state is closing a 24-bed shelter for juvenile delinquents because of fire safety code violations, but juvenile services officials say they hope to reopen it within six months after installing a sprinkler system and doing other renovation work.

State Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore decided late Monday to suspend the program at the Maryland Youth Residence Center on Woodbourne Avenue in Baltimore. Youths are being moved out of the center, and all will be gone within 30 days, officials said.

"We can't have kids there without a sprinkler system in place," said Tammy Brown, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Juvenile Services. "If it's unsafe, we don't want to have kids in there."

She said it could cost as much $500,000 to install sprinklers throughout the building.

The two-story facility, built in the late 1800s, houses boys ages 12 to 18 for up to 30 days as they await court hearings. Unlike secure detention centers, the residence center holds youths who are considered of "low risk" to public safety. In many cases, the youths don't have family willing or able to take them in.

The state fire marshal's office noted several code violations after an Aug. 27 inspection.

Fire-safety inspector William B. Jiles wrote that smoke detectors were not working; the building lacked sprinklers; locked windows blocked a secondary means of escape from a fire; and emergency lighting wasn't working.

In a Sept. 13 letter, Jiles asked juvenile services officials to provide a date for when they planned to have a working sprinkler system throughout the building.

DeVore wrote back Tuesday that the department will suspend residential services at the facility until it can be renovated.

"As of Friday, Sept. 28, DJS stopped all referrals to the program and discontinued utilization of bed space located on the second floor of the building," DeVore wrote. "We expect that the program will cease operation within 30 days."

Advocates for youths said they hope money can be found to renovate the shelter and install sprinklers so it can reopen as quickly as possible.

Angela C. Johnese of Advocates for Children and Youth said she is concerned that boys who are not considered a risk to the community will wind up in secure detention facilities because there isn't sufficient shelter space.

"Right now, we don't know where the kids who are there will be sent," she said.

Claudia Wright, a state juvenile justice monitor, voiced a similar worry. "We're concerned that if the kids can't go to shelters, they will have to go to the detention centers where they'll be with kids with much more serious charges," Wright said.

But Brown said she did not expect difficulties finding privately run shelters to accept the boys who might otherwise have gone to the center. "We have enough shelters to place kids," she said.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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