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Maryland announces plan to close four juvenile facilities by 2027 in bid to bring youths closer to home

The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services wants to close four juvenile facilities and expand capacity at one in Prince George’s County as part of a plan to move state-detained youths closer to home, the agency announced Wednesday.

In a news release, the department wrote that it is proposing to close two juvenile detention centers — the 42-bed all-girls Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel and the coed 57-bed Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center in Rockville — in its upcoming capital improvement plan. The plan also calls for the closures of the six-bed Mountain View youth facility for girls in Garrett County and the 30-bed Green Ridge Youth Center in Allegany County.

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In addition, state officials are proposing an expansion of the Cheltenham Youth Detention Facility in Prince George’s County to include a new 24-bed all-girls detention wing by the end of fiscal year 2025 and a new 48-bed coed youth treatment center on the same campus by the end of fiscal year 2027.

The plan comes as state officials have faced mounting pressure to revamp their system of juvenile detention, which sees many children of color sent to facilities in majority-white counties hours from home.

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“This realignment is about consolidating our resources, investing in our programs, and getting our young men and women closer to home,” DJS Secretary Sam Abed said. “I am grateful for our hardworking and dedicated staff, and I am pleased to report this plan will result in no layoffs.”

The Waxter Children’s Center has had an average daily population of about 23 girls the past three years, according to DJS. The plan calls for the center to be closed by January and the new wing of the Cheltenham facility to be built by fiscal year 2025.

Capital improvement plan documents from the Department of Budget and Management state that the proposed new girls detention center would require the approval of about $89.2 million worth of general obligation bonds between fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year 2024 to complete construction.

The new treatment center also looks to be an expansion of a previously proposed 24-bed facility, which officials said was being reevaluated “due to new juvenile justice reform efforts and residential population trends.”

The Noyes Children’s Center, which primarily serves youths from Montgomery County, has also seen a decrease in its average daily population numbers in recent years, with more detainees being deemed “low risk” by officials.

According to DJS, the center’s average daily population in fiscal year 2019 was 32.5, with more children being deemed low risk than high risk. The coronavirus pandemic forced officials to limit capacity at the center in fiscal year 2020 to 29 youths.

As for Mountain View and Green Ridge, it would mark the closures of two facilities in Western Maryland, where advocates say the state sends too many youths of color from Baltimore City and the surrounding areas.

Green Ridge serves as a treatment center for males 13 to 18 who’ve been ordered by the courts to receive treatment. Mountain View has replaced the gender-responsive and trauma-informed treatment program offered at the former J. DeWeese Carter Center in Kent County.

According to DJS, of the 190 youths who have been detained at Green Ridge from fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2020, 138 were Black and nearly half of all admissions, 92, were from either Baltimore City, Prince George’s County or Montgomery County.

The girls at Mountain View were moved to the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center late last year after four staff members and one youth tested positive for the coronavirus.

It was the second time that population was moved in 2020. Mountain View was originally opened that June to facilitate the youths leaving the J. DeWeese Carter Center.

The department said that all staff at the facilities planned for closure would be able to “transfer into other critical roles within the Department, including residential and community-based positions.”

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