State rethinks youth jail, revisiting campaign issue

State prison officials now believe they overestimated the necessary capacity of a planned jail for teenagers who face charges as adults.

A study released yesterday by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency concludes the city needs about half the size of what was originally to be a 230-bed facility, Sun colleagues Liz Kay and June Torbati report this morning.

The youth lockup became a campaign trail issue last year for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Both had a hand in planning the jail.

Just as officials prepared to break ground, juvenile services activists loudly protested, saying Baltimore needs more youth programs, not more jails. O'Malley agreed to the study that came out yesterday. The lower capacity reflects a downward trend in teen arrests.

Prison Secretary Gary Maynard said the state could adapt the facility plans to the new capacity suggestion -- or go back to the drawing board altogether.

The state already has spent $14 million on planning, design, demolition and site preparation.

At one time, officials said the project was expected to cost more than $100 million, though more recent estimates put it at about $70 million. The state also wants to build a new women's detention facility nearby, on the existing "prison campus" on Madison Street just east of the Jones Falls Expressway.

A Baltimore Sun editorial on downsizing the facility can be found here.

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