I write to take strong exception to the Sun's recent coverage of housing conditions for juveniles charged with serious felonies as adults in Baltimore's adult jail ("Youth in city jail face 'deplorable' conditions," July 29, and "Attacks among youth at Baltimore's adult jail continue," Aug. 3). Our department's Internal Investigative Unit has been investigating the offenders' allegations, and to date, no evidence has been brought to light that would substantiate them.
All constitutional rights of these offenders are being met. They have never been denied access to legal representation. Youth in this facility have never had to sleep on the floor near urine and feces. Our department continues to meet its responsibility to keep this population safe. And we always meet this population's basic educational, medical and mental health needs.
That said, the physical structure of the adult jail is not ideal for providing the tailored rehabilitative programming and services. These juveniles are in an adult facility because they have been charged as adults with a violent felony or other serious crime and are under the jurisdiction of the adult court. But because they are juveniles, the law requires that they be housed separately from the adult population.
We have been working with the General Assembly and the University of Maryland since 2006 to plan, design and build a new facility specifically for this population of offenders. In the planned new facility, all services — including educational, health and mental health programming, drug treatment, recreational and family visitation — would be housed within the same building (which is currently not possible given the logistical constraints of keeping adults and juveniles separate in the current adult correctional complex).
It is worth noting that with respect to juvenile detention, community-based alternatives to juvenile detention have been a priority for Gov.Martin O'Malley's administration. In fiscal year 2011, only 17 percent of the 35,000 youth entering the juvenile system were admitted to a secure youth detention facility.
Nothing is more important than the safety of our juveniles, both in the community and in detention. Thanks to the outstanding work of the Baltimore Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, including collaborating on information sharing and the Violence Prevention Initiative, with the Department of Juvenile Services and our Department, juvenile homicides and non-fatal shootings in Baltimore have been driven down to their lowest point in 30 years. Juvenile homicides have been driven down by 36 percent since 2006. And juvenile non-fatal shooting victims have been driven down by almost 70 percent in the last four years.
The department is ready to build a new facility for the under-18 population charged as adults with serious felonies. The General Assembly has planned additional hearings on the topic before they will release the funds to continue the design of this facility. I urge the General Assembly to fund construction of this new facility designed specifically to meet the needs of youth charged as adults.
Gary D. Maynard, Towson
The writer is secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.