Maryland’s juvenile justice system would be overhauled with an expanded education program and closure of large detention centers under measures approved by the state House of Delegates, reports the Washington Post. The legislation, hailed as a blueprint for turning around a system known for allegations of abuse and neglect, requires that every young offender in the system be assigned a mentor and receive year-round education. A pilot program would provide intensive services for about 500 youths after they return home.
One approved bill would create a separate school district by 2012 to oversee the education of the 45,000 youths handled by the system annually. The legislative package includes no firm timetable and no mechanism for financing the changes, which could cost tens of millions of dollars for construction alone. The proposed changes, which go to the Senate, were voted as a new report outlines continued problems in the detention facilities, including low staffing levels, abusive guards, and unsanitary conditions.
At one facility, six fights broke out in a single day in November, according to the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor. At another, incidents of child neglect, abuse, assault, and use of force occur an average of 2.5 times a day. “In large detention facilities, we have a level of activity that is unacceptable in terms of children being injured or assaulted,” said Ralph B. Thomas, executive director of the office.
Sponsors said the measures create a framework for changes that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) promised in his 2002 election bid. He cited the juvenile justice system as an example of the failed policies of his Democratic opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. During the campaign, Ehrlich called for smaller detention facilities, more drug treatment, and more staff involvement for a system marked by a high recidivism rate.