Five years ago, Baltimore’s pristine new $50 million Juvenile Justice Center was envisioned as an antidote to the city’s disorganized juvenile justice system. Now, says the Baltimore Sun, the structure is widely viewed as a failure – a building rife with violence and in need of radical transformation. State Public Defender Nancy Forster says, “The whole thing ought to be torn down and rebuilt.” State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a juvenile justice reform advocate, calls it a “poorly configured monstrosity.” Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore identifies it as the “most perplexing and challenging” state juvenile facility.
It is the 144-bed detention wing of the complex, which includes courtrooms and child welfare offices, that has proved to be the building’s albatross. Juvenile advocates call it a Supermax prison for teenage boys, a facility at odds with the rehabilitative mission of juvenile services. Designed to house youngsters for 30 to 45 days as they await trial, it has become a warehouse for delinquents who stay for months awaiting placement at more appropriate places. That stagnation, combined with the what some call an inappropriate layout, persistent staffing problems and the influx of street-hardened youths, can push the facility beyond its capacity and turn it into a powder keg. An architectural assessment of the 95,000-square-foot detention area indicates that it “is overcrowded in every department” and under national standards, should be 50 percent larger.