Silver Oak Academy, a reform school for juvenile delinquents, will open this month in Maryland’s rural Carroll County with nine boys, slowly expanding to four dozen – just a small fraction of the size it could be, says the Baltimore Sun. The sprawling facility, with a 20,000-square-foot vocational training center and six dormitories, can accommodate at least triple that number, a legacy of the ambitious expansion plans of previous owner Bowling Brook Preparatory School, which was forced to close after a student died. Rite of Passage, the new operator, is known for super-sized juvenile justice programs in Western states that it wants to replicate in Maryland.
The fight has begun over just what shape Silver Oak Academy will take, part of a broader discussion about Maryland’s approach to rehabilitating juvenile offenders. Legislators agreed last year that state-run juvenile facilities must be no larger than 48 beds and should be near the hometowns of the children they serve, with particular emphasis on Baltimore. Such a model, national experts have found, gives kids a better chance of avoiding new arrests and succeeding in school once they return home. The state has designated $188 million to build new juvenile facilities in line with that approach, but construction is years away. More than 200 juvenile offenders are awaiting treatment in lock-ups or have been sent to other states.