Young demonstrators protest youth jail.

Cedric Forte, 19, of Baltimore addresses more than 100 demonstrators protesting plans for a youth jail in Baltimore. He discussed his eight-month experience inside the Baltimore City Detention Center with adult offenders. Forte was charged as an adult for armed robbery as a 16-year-old in 2009. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / October 2, 2011)

Several hundred people gathered Tuesday evening outside the Baltimore City Detention Center to protest the construction in East Baltimore of a jail for youths charged as adults.

The demonstrators, mostly teens and people in their 20s, represented advocacy groups that believe the tens of millions of dollars allocated for the new jail should instead be spent on recreation centers and school construction.

One of the speakers at the jail, Cedric Forte, was housed there at age 16 for armed robbery. Since getting out, he enrolled in community college, got a steady job at a restaurant and moved to Carroll County to get away from the city's "negativity." He said his experience led him the conclusion that the state should not put more money into jails.

"It's, like, backward, to me," said Forte, 19. "It's pretty sad that they're going to spend that money on building a jail when it could be used for prevention."

Youths in the adult judicial system now are housed in part of the jail, and federal authorities have criticized the facility for not adequately separating those youths from adult offenders.

The state must improve living conditions for the population of juveniles charged as adults, said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Original cost estimates for the jail were about $100 million, but at least one construction bid has come in substantially under that, at around $70 million. In May, about $14 million had already been spent on planning, design, demolition and site preparation.

Gary D. Maynard, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, is preparing a recommendation about how to proceed with the new facility, Binetti said.

The secretary's comments are likely to be submitted to Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly this fall, he said.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

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