By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
7:46 PM EDT, August 2, 2012
The city judge didn't need to hear from the boy — his black eye told the story.
Held at the youth annex of the Baltimore City Detention Center while awaiting trial on armed-robbery charges, the boy, who celebrated his 17th birthday at the facility last month, had been assaulted over the weekend and since then deprived of the opportunity to attend school, according to his attorney.
This, the attorney noted, came amid increased complaints about poor conditions and oversight at the facility, including an article Sunday in The Baltimore Sun detailing increasing concerns from attorneys and juvenile advocates.
"It's an alarming situation … that these things are still going on," said defense attorney Robert Linthicum, who asked that the teen be moved to the detention center for youths charged as juveniles.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard, who has heard several such requests in recent weeks, granted the transfer without asking the boy to testify. She noted that she could see his black eye from the bench.
"The purpose of your detention is not for you to be beaten," Heard said.
In Maryland, there are at least 28 crimes for which suspects under age 18 must be charged as adults. Almost 70 percent of those charged are not convicted in adult court, with their cases dropped by prosecutors or waived to juvenile court, where there's an emphasis on rehabilitation.
But while awaiting trial, the youths are held for months and sometimes years at the city's adult jail, where there are long-standing concerns about conditions and where officials acknowledge they struggle to provide adequate services to juveniles.
Recently, juveniles were moved to a separate building where they are held 16 or more in a dorm-style pen, with one or two corrections officers overseeing two such pens on the floor. Detainees have testified that officers were often not at their posts or indifferent to beatings that occur, which state officials have said is untrue or exaggerated.
The state's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services says it has a solution — a new, $70 million jail for youths charged as adults that they say would offer better services to detainees.
But youth advocates, who decry the conditions at the current facility, are opposed to building a new jail. They believe the state's juvenile justice center can accommodate those youths, and that the millions of dollars that would be spent on a new jail should go to programs to keep youths out the criminal justice system.
Funding for the project is currently frozen in the House of Delegates, which asked the state to explore alternative proposals. Rick Binetti, a spokesman with the public safety agency, said a hearing of the House's appropriations committee is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Binetti said the agency's internal investigative unit is looking into the allegations made at Thursday's hearing for the 17-year-old.
City prosecutors, who have tried to block requests for transfers of youths charged as adults to the juvenile facility, did not oppose the motion to move the youth held on robbery charges. The Sun is not naming him because there has not been a decision on whether his case will be heard in adult or juvenile court.
Though the boy did not testify, a program coordinator at the Eager Street Academy, an on-site school for the detainees, did, saying that the boy had been one of the few who has approached him about getting more involved in the programs offered.
But since he was attacked, he's been segregated from the general population, which includes not being allowed to attend class with the rest of the detainees.
He was "one of the first students to seek us out, looking for any program he could do to shorten his stay or stay out of further trouble," testified Robert Drowos. "Self-motivation is often the first step, but that option is now severely restricted."
The teen will not be arraigned until September, meaning he could have continued to sit in the adult jail for months before a disposition.
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