Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Sam Abed is rightly concerned about youngsters languishing in overcrowded detention, sometimes for weeks or months on end. But spending money to expand privately run residential programs is not his only option. For far too long, Maryland has chosen expensive juvenile incarceration as the primary means for treating juvenile offenders. Research shows that positive outcomes are more likely to be achieved in communities and at a significantly lower cost than secure detention. That is why I and many of my colleagues support community-based alternatives as a means of reducing overcrowded facilities without jeopardizing community safety.
Your editorial ("Not enough beds," May 30) describes the lack of alternatives to detention for youngsters accused of nonviolent crimes as one of the DJS system's shortcomings. Yet nonprofit providers of community-based alternatives exist in Maryland, and they achieve positive outcomes at a fraction of the cost of lock-up. Two examples are Baltimore Safe and Sound, and Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), both are nonprofit community-based providers in Baltimore. YAP's Baltimore Program reports an 85 percent success rate resulting in lower recidivism rates. There are other community-based agencies that can also successfully serve nonviolent offenders in their communities.
I believe that rehabilitation should be our goal for juvenile offenders. Use of community-based alternatives instead of secure detention is a proven means of helping non-violent offenders develop into productive, contributing members of their communities. We must invest in our youth, anything less would be economically and morally irresponsible.
Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore
The writer is the state senator representing District 40.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun