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Police sweep of lockup turns up no narcotics

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland State Police troopers and nine drug-sniffing dogs swept through the city juvenile lockup yesterday as part of an investigation into a recent drug problem in the secure facility.

A three-hour search of the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center turned up one cell phone but no narcotics - evidence, one juvenile official said, that tighter facility policies are working.

Searches last week, without the dogs, revealed enough marijuana to roll five to eight joints, plus cigarettes and three cell phones, said John Dixon, deputy secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Services.

The searches were conducted because five detainees in the past month - including a case as recently as early last week - have been taken to emergency rooms with symptoms that Dixon said he believes are associated with drug use. He said the tobacco appeared to have been dipped in an unknown substance and that state police are testing it.

The 144-bed center on Gay Street houses youths awaiting trial upstairs in juvenile court and youths judged "delinquent" who are awaiting placement in long-term facilities.

Overnight Tuesday, a group of boys angry about not being able to use the telephone barricaded themselves in an office and then in a residential area for eight hours.

Dixon said no one was injured but some furniture was destroyed. Employees convinced the boys to comply with directions about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, ending the barricade.

Marlana Valdez, the state's independent juvenile justice monitor, said yesterday that her office plans to notify the governor and legislators about the barricade.

Other recent violence includes the Sept. 25 assault of Justice Center Superintendent Johnitha McNair and a youth who showed up in court Tuesday with a black eye that his defense attorney said he had gotten when other detainees beat him up over food.

"As we have repeatedly recommended in our reports, we are urging the department ... to reduce the population, at least temporarily, to no more than 50 youth by relocating youth to other detention facilities," said Valdez, who works for the Maryland attorney general.

Yesterday there were 112 juveniles detained there, a steep reduction from the at- or over-capacity daily population of just a few months ago.

Dixon attributed the barricade and other recent problems to "change" at the center. He said the department has tightened its policies and has "a higher level of expectations for the staff and the kids who live here."

One change, he said, is that drug sweeps with police dogs will become routine. Dixon said yesterday's sweep took place with minimal disruption to the detainees, who attended classes inside the lockup and did not come in direct contact with the nine animals or 19 troopers on the scene.

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