State has taken great strides to improve youth safety

May 31, 2012

Since 2007, an improved Department of Juvenile Services and law enforcement, working closely together, have driven down juvenile homicides by 32 percent statewide; have achieved a 53 percent decrease in the number of youths killed who ever had any contact with DJS; and have achieved a 60 percent decrease in homicides of youths under DJS supervision. In Baltimore City, nonfatal shootings were driven down 67 percent from 2007 to 2011.

Our department's most important mission is to keep Maryland's children safe — both in our facilities and in the community. Over the past five years, we have taken unprecedented steps to collaborate and share information with law enforcement to help dramatically drive down the number of youth victims of violent crime.

Youths who were not held accountable in the past are now seen up to five times a week through the juvenile Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI), created to identify and appropriately supervise youths at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violent crime.

When the O'Malley/Brown administration took office in 2007, we inherited two facilities under federal consent decrees and voluntarily entered into a third because it, too, was struggling. We successfully exited the two consent decrees in 2008 and the third in 2010, leaving no juvenile facilities under federal oversight today.

We have invested historic sums of money in juvenile facilities. In July 2007, the state invested $13 million to renovate and reopen the Victor Cullen Center, the state's only secure treatment facility for boys. Next year, construction will begin on the first new juvenile detention facility in a decade. Over the next five years, the state will invest $112 million to build state-of-the art facilities.

We agree that detention should be a last resort. Over 80 percent of the department's population receives services at home, in school, and in the community. During the O'Malley/Brown administration's first term, the department increased funding for evidenced-based services in the community by 300 percent and decreased the use of residential group homes by 25 percent.

I would not want readers of yesterday's editorial ("Not enough beds," May 30) to come away thinking that the state has failed to grasp or tackle the problems facing Maryland's youth. We are working on multiple fronts to continue to achieve historic reductions in crimes against children, and to keep the children of Maryland safe.

Sam Abed

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.

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