Federal monitoring of long-troubled city youth lockup to end

Justice Department has kept tabs since May 2007

August 11, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz, The Baltimore Sun

Federal monitoring of the long-troubled Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center is likely to end soon, state juvenile services officials said Wednesday, making it the third youth facility in Maryland to be lifted from such oversight in little more than two years.

The officials said a U.S. Department of Justice monitor has told them the city facility appears to be in "substantial compliance" with an oversight plan laid out in May 2007. Federal officials sought to make the facility safer by improving suicide prevention programs, education and behavior management, said Jay Cleary, a spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Services.

The justice center can hold up to 144 teenage boys, most of whom are awaiting trial in juvenile court or placement in a long-term program ordered by a judge. To alleviate crowded conditions, Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore reduced to 120 the maximum number of detainees allowed at any one time.

The $50 million facility on Gay Street, which also contains juvenile courtrooms and agency offices, opened in 2003, but its detention wing was quickly overcome with problems, including brutal fights and assaults on staff members.

A few months after taking office in 2007, Gov. Martin O'Malley voluntarily entered the city youth lockup into an oversight agreement with the Justice Department. At the time, two other state juvenile facilities, the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County, also were under federal monitoring for substandard conditions.

Federal oversight of Hickey and Cheltenham ended in June 2008, and state Juvenile Services officials predicted the city facility could be out of its agreement within a few months. After both the Justice Department and state agency sign off on final exit papers, a federal judge must agree to end the case, Cleary said.

"This is very monumental for us," Cleary said. "It's the first time in at least five years that no state juvenile facility will be federally monitored."

But Cleary said, "it's not just about getting out of federal oversight for the sake of getting out of federal oversight. It's about real improvements in the way facilities are treating youth and taking care of youth."

O'Malley, who plans to announce the development with DeVore Thursday at the facility, said in a statement that "there is nothing more important in our state than protecting Maryland's most vulnerable children and their families."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

twitter.com/bykowicz

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.