Kara Aanenson, the lead organizer of the Just Kids Partnership, said advocates have proposed a $2 million renovation of a vacant building formerly used for women detainees as a temporary solution while they work through the legislature for juvenile justice reform. "The state says if we have this brand-new facility we'd treat them better, but they can't treat them now. What's really going to change?" she said.
The agreement with the civil rights division was due to expire in January 2011, but, in an acknowledgment that the state "had not yet achieved substantial compliance with several provisions," an amended agreement was struck this past April. While much of the previous document was deleted, the sections about juvenile conditions remained intact.
Officials agreed to give The Baltimore Sun a tour of the adult jail last week, where the juveniles' dorm-style cells have 16 metal bunk beds behind a locked gate. The brick building's age shows, though it does not appear to be in significant disrepair.
Though the tour was conducted while the detainees were attending class at an on-site school, they appear to have plenty of room to roam around their beds, a seating area with tables, and the bathroom, which does not have a door and has windows visible from the sleeping area. Corrections officers watch from a pod between the rooms, and sightlines appear to be poor.
France, the director of pretrial detention, said the open arrangement was designed to foster interaction and socialization among the juveniles, many of whom are being detained for the first time. He said it has worked "to a certain extent."
"We wanted open dormitories where they could walk around, turn on a TV, play board games, do homework not in dimly lit cells but areas provided for that purpose," France said.
Of the reported attacks, he said: "There are going to be opportunists, there are going to be predators. We have to be mindful of that, and move in very quickly and extract people from that type of behavior."
There is no air-conditioning in the building. One day after record-high temperatures, partially opened windows invited in a breeze and window fans were turned on. It was warm, but not unbearable, though deeper into the cells the effect of the fans was minimal. In extreme conditions, there are misting fans and staffers distribute cups of ice, said Kelvin Harris, the compliance director.
Warden Marion Tuthill pointed to a fourth-floor room where colorful murals adorn the walls. A folded-up pingpong table sits off to the side, and Maj. Kim Wilson said there are plans to turn the space into a recreational area with computers, a sofa and a television.
Most of the juveniles are held on the third floor, with the second and fourth floors designated for those in need of protective custody or segregated for other reasons. While their peers were in class, two boys played the card game Uno near a flat-screen television mounted to the wall. Officials said detainees could not be interviewed about conditions at the facility without the consent of their attorneys.
The protective custody tier had four beds lined up, three of which were dressed. Above one was a piece of notebook paper where a juvenile had scrawled "Trust in God." On bedside tables were rolls of toilet paper and a bar of soap.
At a hearing this month, defense attorney Edie Cimino told Heard that a juvenile who is being picked on faces a dilemma: "He can take the beatings at night and from 8 [a.m.] to 1 [p.m.] he can go to class, or he can go to protective custody and contemplate the inner workings of his mind for 23 hours a day. … It's torture."
Officials say the building has four corrections officers assigned to the three floors, but defense attorneys say they are often pulled away to perform other duties or to use phones on other floors. Tuthill maintained that the building is properly staffed, and that no officers are asked to do anything that would take them away from their assignment.
"That's somebody not doing their job, and not a staffing issue," said spokesman Rick Binetti.
Prosecutor Hankin warned in court that defense attorneys would try to take advantage of the complaints, making it difficult for judges to "separate fact from fiction." City prosecutors generally oppose transfer requests, arguing that many of the assaults described by youth in court are not reported or documented within the facility.
Statistics provided by the correctional system indicate that there have been only 11 assaults in the annex since January.
'Don't say nothing'
The shy 16-year-old was wearing a tan jumpsuit, fidgeting uncomfortably on the witness stand.
Jonathan was brought to the youth annex in late June after being charged in a robbery, and spent a week on the second-floor intake area for a medical evaluation. He then was brought up to the third floor and placed in a room with 15 other kids. Almost instantly, there was trouble, he said.