Maryland's troubled youth need treatment now

January 11, 2013

Your recent editorial on the proposed expansion of the Silver Oak Academy juvenile resident treatment facility failed to address the immediate need for additional treatment beds for youthful offenders ("Backsliding at DJS," Jan. 7).

Far from "backsliding," the Department of Juvenile Services is showing great foresight in seeking capacity to treat youth who would otherwise be in detention while waiting for a vacant treatment bed and not getting credit for their time in detention.

The simple reality is that we do not have enough space in state-run facilities for youth awaiting treatment. On any given day in 2012 there were, on average, 124 youth sitting in a juvenile detention facility, waiting for a treatment bed to become available.

The O'Malley-Brown administration is the first in 20 years to open a state-operated juvenile treatment facility. And this administration has further committed to an ambitious capital plan. It has invested millions of dollars into planning, designing and building future treatment facilities in Baltimore City and Prince George's County. However, the construction process will take time.

In the meantime, many youth in DJS' care need treatment now. An increase of 48 beds at Silver Oak Academy will allow youth to be rehabilitated more quickly and reduce recidivism.

I believe in the vision of smaller, regional facilities that can treat all of Maryland's youth in Maryland. It is a laudable and attainable vision for the future — and one that we are achieving through investing in the construction of state-of-the-art treatment facilities operated by the state. But failure to expand treatment beds now would sacrifice the well-being of youth currently in DJS' care until that vision can be realized.

Sam Abed, Baltimore

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

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