Saving kids and dollars

Our view: Closure of O'Farrell Center means better treatment options for Maryland youths

October 13, 2008

There's a silver lining to the state's decision to close a residential treatment center for boys in Carroll County. Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services says it will use nearly half of the $1.5 million in savings from the move to expand home-based family therapy services that have shown impressive results with juvenile offenders.

That's not only good for the state's bottom line, it's an investment in its future. When the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Marriottsville closes its doors at the end of November, about 20 of 30 youngsters housed there will return to their families and participate in a special intensive therapy regimen that pairs families with counselors who are involved in their daily lives. Family participation is critical and mandatory.

Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore should be commended for taking this step. The 43-bed O'Farrell center was in poor physical condition and required upgrading that the state wasn't prepared to do on its own. During three visits this year, the state's juvenile justice monitor reported an increase in youth-on-youth assaults from 14 to 18, though youth-on-staff assaults had declined. But the condition of the facility's infirmary remained a concern because of its small size and lack of privacy.

In closing the center, DJS will save enough money to extend the highly regarded intervention known as multisystemic therapy to 300 youthful offenders and their families in Baltimore city and county over the course of a year. About 299 youngsters in DJS' care receive such evidence-based therapies across the state.

This newspaper has supported expanding this program to more juveniles in DJS care because of its record in reducing by 25 percent to 70 percent rearrest rates for youths, and that means fewer kids en route to adult prison.

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