Hundreds protest state plans to build youth jail in city

Several hundred people gathered on Paul Laurence Dunbar High School's football field Sunday afternoon to protest state plans to build a $100 million, 230-bed detention facility in Baltimore for juveniles criminally charged as adults.

The two-hour rally culminated in a candle-lit march to the proposed construction site, a quarter-mile away next to the Baltimore City Detention Center, where protesters — chanting "educate, don't incarcerate" — used bolt-cutters to strip away the chain link fence protecting the property. Once inside, they planted yellow signs reading "Money for jobs and education, not jails" on the grounds and left books behind as a symbolic message.

"This is our property," declared Deverick Murray, vice president of programming for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, which describes itself as "Baltimore's progressive policy think tank" and helped organize the event.

Juveniles facing adult charges, typically for violent crimes, are now held in a wing of the Baltimore City Detention Center, which the U.S. Department of Justice has called inadequate. The new facility, in the works for five years, would provide a separate space to keep teens away from the adults, which corrections officials say is desperately needed. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall.

But critics say that prosecuting teens as adults is counterproductive and that the money spent on a detention facility would be better used on prevention programs. A report released earlier this month by the Just Kids Partnership, made up of youth and legal advocacy organizations, found that trying children as adults teaches them to become more violent, subjects them to physical and sexual abuse, and unfairly targets African-Americans.

"All the evidence, all the data, suggest it doesn't work," said LBS President Dayvon Love. He said the group chose Sunday to rally in the hopes it would get politicians' attention before Tuesday's election.

LBS was joined in the rally by the Baltimore Algebra Project, a student-run tutoring organization; Union Baptist Church, Kinetics Faith and Justice Network, a faith-based advocacy group, and others.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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