Baltimore County defends conditions for youth inmates in adult jail, but ‘shares concerns’

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Baltimore County’s director of corrections defended conditions at the Baltimore County Detention Center on Friday, refuting allegations by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender of poor treatment of youth inmates at the adult facility.

However, the corrections director, Walt Pesterfield, also acknowledged in a publicly released letter that the county “shares concerns regarding appropriate placement for juvenile offenders at a facility that was not designed to house juveniles.”


“Baltimore County is actively working with potential partners to identify alternative housing options for Baltimore County juvenile detainees charged as adults,” he wrote. “We look forward to sharing more about those next steps in the coming weeks.

On March 6 the state’s public defenders said in a letter that the county had been confining youth inmates at the detention center for up to 23 hours a day in rodent-infested, flood-prone cells. They also accused the Towson jail of withholding access to education and adequate health care for the youth inmates at the facility, which holds minors who have been charged as adults and whom a judge has ordered to be held pretrial.


The Maryland Office of the Public Defender stood by its claims on Friday night, in an email to The Baltimore Sun responding to Pesterfield’s letter.

In Pesterfield’s letter, he said he interviewed all six of the inmates under age 18 who were at the jail on March 29, and found that youth detainees did not sleep on mats on the floor, as the public defender’s office has alleged, and do not have limited access to showers or live in rat-infested cells.

“In many cases, conditions were not found to be as described in the letter from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender,” Pesterfield wrote. “It is not uncommon for mice to be occasionally spotted in a detention facility; however, rodents have not infested the unit, and there is not a pest problem.”

Pesterfield also said that youth inmates are restricted to their cells for five to six hours per day, not 23 hours as the public defender’s office has said, though he acknowledged the facility does not have an outside recreational area.

Pesterfield added that adults and inmates under age 18 are locked in separate pods within the same building.

“Despite their best efforts, the jail cannot physically or practically meet the constitutional requirements of housing children in the same facility as adults. Director Pesterfield’s letter acknowledges that the jail was not designed to house children,” said Deborah St. Jean, the juvenile protection division director of the public defenders’ office and author of the original letter, in her email to The Sun.

“We stand by our letter, and believe our clients, whose accounts are consistent with what we have heard from other children for years. Scores of children have shared their experiences of being locked in, away from their families and communities, subjected to harsh conditions inappropriate for children. The incarceration of children in adult jails is a systemic issue and mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that moving forward all children are housed in facilities designed to provide for their care and education, rather than providing a band-aid to the concerns that can be addressed.”