Most youths charged with crimes in Maryland are sent to the juvenile court system, where cases must be adjudicated within a month and the emphasis is on rehabilitation rather than punishment. In Baltimore, 4,854 juveniles were processed in fiscal year 2011 by the Department of Juvenile Services.
In Maryland, there are at least 28 crimes for which youths must be charged as adults, ranging from murder to conspiracy to commit assault. They can then petition the court to have their cases moved to the juvenile system. In the meantime, they are held in an adult facility under the supervision of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, whose primary focus is on the thousands of adult inmates it oversees.
More than two-thirds of the youth committed to the adult jail eventually leave without a conviction in adult court — either they are sent back to the juvenile system, or they are found not guilty, have the charges against them dropped or are put on probation. Still, they spend an average of about four months locked up, a 2011 report by National Council on Crime and Delinquency found, and can be held for years awaiting a trial date.
Since 2007, the state has been operating under a memorandum of understanding with theU.S. Department of Justiceto improve overall conditions at the jail, after auditors issued a scathing report that said the jail was "deliberately indifferent" to inmates' needs and criticized security, medical and sanitary conditions. It required that federal monitors conduct periodic inspections, bringing in experts to evaluate the jail's policies and procedures.
Around that time, the state agreed to build separate facilities for women and juveniles. But plans for a $100 million youth jail on nearby land were postponed last year by Gov.Martin O'Malleyamid the outcry from youth advocates. The opponents were buoyed by a National Council on Crime and Delinquency report, which found that the 230-bed plan was inconsistent with trends in the city's youth population and juvenile crime, which have been on the decline.
At that time, the city had a daily average of 92 youths locked up in adult jails; documents from this month show that number has declined to an average of 47.
But youth advocates also say broader juvenile justice reform is needed. In Virginia, for example, the state legislature unanimously passed a measure in 2010 that calls for youths charged as adults to be held in juvenile facilities unless they are found to be a security threat.
"The state simply has to use effective, proven alternatives to detention to free up beds [at the Juvenile Justice Center] that are now being filled by kids that don't need to be held," said Hathaway Ferebee, director of the Safe & Sound Campaign, a Baltimore youth advocacy organization.
Ultimately, most national and local advocates argue, no juveniles should be charged as adults. They point to research that shows the portions of the brain governing impulse control, planning and thinking are still developing beyond age 18, and they say incarceration adversely affects development and leads to conditions that will increase the chances of reoffending.
The youths deemed unsafe in the adult jail have been moved to the Juvenile Justice Center, a 120-bed facility located on Gay Street and run by the Department of Juvenile Services. Jay Cleary, a DJS spokesman, said the agency is not permitted by law to operate a facility for youths charged as adults, but "if the court issues an order, we do our best to follow it."
The detainees Judge Heard agreed recently to transfer from the adult jail to the juvenile facility are facing robbery or gun-related charges, including allegations that one shot a man during a stickup, paralyzing him from the waist down. Prosecutors voiced concerns about them mixing with juveniles charged with less serious crimes.
"I think the court has a responsibility to consider others in the juvenile justice center, and is this someone you want to" expose to others there, Assistant State's Attorney Janet Hankin said at a recent hearing.
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."