City Council takes symbolic stand against youth jail

The Baltimore City Council took a symbolic stand Monday against the construction of a proposed new $70 million juvenile jail in East Baltimore.

Twelve of 14 council members signed on as co-sponsors of Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young's resolution calling for a moratorium on building the new detention center.

"The state's own survey said that they should not build this jail," Young said at a lunch for the council Monday. "I really believe that we can do better for our children. This jail is not needed. We need other alternatives, rather than locking them up."

Only council members Edward Reisinger, who was absent from Monday's meeting, and Rochelle "Rikki" Spector did not sign on as co-sponsors.

Young's resolution comes after Gov. Martin O'Malley earlier this month described plans for a new 120-bed youth detention facility for teens charged as adults as "moving forward," despite the anger of activists who say the state should be building schools for children, not prisons.

The O'Malley administration says the new jail is needed because youths charged as adults are currently housed in poor conditions at the Baltimore City Detention Center -- alongside older inmates charged with felonies. Youth advocates and attorneys for the detainees say the adult jail continues to be an unsafe place for youths.

In July, The Sun documented some of the conditions at the current facility, including assaults, lax oversight by correction officers and stifling heat. After that report, the detainees were moved to a different building in the complex with air conditioning, a move that officials said had been in the works for months. U.S. Justice Department officials also paid their first visit to the jail since reaching an extension on an oversight agreement in April.

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the state prison system, has said state laws determine that some youths must be charged as adults for certain crimes, including murder and rape.

Prison officials and the state "need a new facility to meet the needs of this population long term," he said.

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