Seven feuding fourth- and fifth graders in Maryland were sent to a “community conferencing center” rather than to police. The Baltimore Sun says that when students sat down with friends, family, and others to hash out their problems, the dispute was settled in 90 minutes.
The center that has run 500 such sessions says that broken promises of state aid have left it on the verge of shutting its doors. In January, the state Department of Juvenile Services drew up a contract for a $750,000 grant, but the center has yet to receive anything. Director Lauren Abramson says, “Our chain has been yanked by that department now for four years. The secretary [Kenneth C. Montague Jr.] made more progress than the last person did. But to issue a contract and then not have the money to follow through with it seems irresponsible.”
To some juvenile justice advocates, the case is symptomatic of a lack of financial commitment to juvenile justice by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who campaigned on the issue during his 2002 election campaign. “Good programs like this can’t survive in a climate of uncertainty,” said Sharon Rubinstein of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition. “It’s high time for the department to put its money where its mouth is. Touting programs isn’t the same as funding them.”