Baltimore officials will open two youth centers in advance of the strict new curfew law that takes effect Aug. 8, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Thursday.
The curfew centers will open early next month on the city's east and west sides with staffs of about eight, including police officers and social workers, to link young people and their families with services, officials said.
The curfew — believed to be among the strictest in the country — will require unsupervised children to be indoors by as early as 9 p.m. It is designed to identify youths and families in need of help, not bring more youths into the criminal system, Rawlings-Blake said.
"Everyone acknowledges that there is a problem. We have kids who are falling through the cracks," she told The Baltimore Sun in an interview. "Turning a blind eye isn't helping any of these kids."
She said the overwhelming response she's heard from city residents about the law is: "Thank you."
The mayor and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts will hold community forums about the curfew on July 21 at Morgan State University and on July 29 at the University of Baltimore Law Center. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m.
Children and teens out too late will be taken by police to a curfew center, where a parent or guardian will be contacted and workers will decide whether it is safe for the kids to go home.
The youths will not face criminal charges, nor will they be handcuffed when transported to the centers, according to Angela Johnese, director of Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. Parents or guardians will face a fine of $30 to $500, but that could be waived if the family participates in counseling provided by the city.
The new curfew, which replaces one that's been on the books for about 20 years, requires children under 14 to be indoors year-round by 9 p.m. Teens 14 to 16 can stay out until 10 on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends and over the summer.
The stricter curfew has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and others.
"The curfew law increases the likelihood of negative interactions between the law and young people," said Sonia Kumar, an ACLU staff attorney who specializes in youth and the law. "We have a strong track record in Baltimore of really problematic encounters between police and residents."
Kumar said the ACLU will be watching the implementation of the law closely, especially the encounters between youth and police.
Johnese said the centers are intended to be a place where children and families can connect to services, as well as to serve as a place that will enrich the lives of the young people.
"They are not being detained," she said. "They are being provided resources and supports."
The centers, called Youth Connection Centers, will operate at the Lillian Jones recreation center in Sandtown-Winchester and at the Collington Square recreation center in the Broadway East neighborhood. They will open as early as Aug. 1, and run only on weekend nights to start.
Eventually, the city wants to open the centers 24 hours a day, seven days a week and to operate nine of them.
City officials said they are working with community groups and faith leaders to coordinate volunteers to provide additional services for the young people. The centers will offer arts and crafts, computer lessons, music and games for the young people while social workers evaluate their circumstances, and as they wait to be picked up.
The city will spend $195,000 to operate the two centers this year, officials said.
The Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice will answer community questions about the law by email at email@example.com.