Maryland’s juvenile jails house kids who aren’t supposed to be there – dozens of young offenders with severe mental or emotional problems waiting for state officials to find them a bed in a residential treatment program, the Baltimore Sun reports. As of late January, 63 youths had been jailed six weeks or longer while waiting for a placement – nearly twice the number of a year ago. The growing backlog is partly the result of the state’s decision to close much of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School without developing programs to replace it. The youths languishing the longest are those most in need of help, state officials acknowledge. Many have been traumatized from years of abuse or neglect and experiences that can come with growing up poor: a parent jailed or lost to drugs; a friend or sibling killed on the streets; frequent moves to stay with different relatives or foster families.
Edward Hopkins of the state Department of Juvenile Services, said such youths are harder to place because they can have deep psychological and emotional problems, along with learning disabilities, low IQs or aggressive behavior that makes them difficult to manage. “These are kids who are the sickest,” said Susan Leviton of the children’s law center at the University of Maryland School of Law. “They are getting worse because they don’t get [appropriate] services while they are waiting.” Hopkins said youths are waiting so long for placement because the treatment centers – most of them privately run – refuse to take some of the youths that his agency refers to them. Other centers have no room.