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Baltimore youth jail funding not in O'Malley's budget

The state will not put any money toward the construction of a Baltimore jail for juveniles charged as adults, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget, as prison officials consider renovating an existing facility instead.

State officials would not discuss the plan, but funding for the proposed Youth Detention Facility was not included in the fiscal 2014 capital spending plan released Wednesday by O'Malley. The state Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services have announced plans on Thursday to make a "major announcement about the future of the Youth Detention Center."

The plan for a $70 million, 120-bed youth jail has been under fire for years, even as the state has agreed under federal pressure to improve conditions for youth offenders charged as adults. Advocates want the state to invest more in city recreational centers, apprenticeships and alternative sentencing, such as evidenced-based counseling for non-violent offenders.

Roughly 50 juveniles charged as adults — facing charges for 33 crimes such as assault, car jacking and murder — are incarcerated daily along with the city's adult offenders while they await trial. The populations are kept separate.

While many youth advocates have petitioned the state to repurpose a prerelease center, a leading opponent to the youth jail's construction cautioned against such alternative plans.

"We're not happy," said Hathaway Ferebee, director of the Safe and Sound Campaign. "How can we be happy?"

Ferebee said because nearly all of the juveniles charged as adults are black, more facilities to incarcerate nonviolent juveniles would continue a "legacy of our past as a slave society. It perpetuates this racism and it predicts the failure of young African-American kids living in Baltimore City."

Ferebee's group is calling on the state to spend half of what was proposed for the youth jail on the alternative investments.

"Gov. O'Malley and state legislators have the opportunity to take that same money they were so willing to spend to build a jail to hold African-American kids — to house kids who are now five, six or seven years — and put in opportunities so all our kids have a fair chance at healthy development."

The state has already provided $14 million for the planning, design and site preparation of the youth jail. Another $17 million had been set aside for the first phase of construction.

While the governor's office declined to comment Wednesday on the forthcoming announcement, O'Malley's 194-page capital improvement plan says, "The department is re-evaluating the project scope and examining whether existing facilities can be renovated to accommodate the youth-charged-as-adults population."

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