One week after Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took over from Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a teenager died in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Services. The new governor shuttered an overcrowded, privately run facility and pledged to develop a network of small, state-run youth prisons. As the Democratic governor prepares for a rematch with the Republican he ousted, reports the Baltimore Sun, he must contend with another high-profile death at a juvenile facility, this time in a state-administered program.
A teacher was killed in February, her body discovered just outside the doors of the small building where she taught. Authorities are expected to soon charge a 13-year-old student and court proceedings could bump against the November election. O’Malley and Ehrlich each call the Department of Juvenile Services one of the most troubled and troublesome agencies in state government. Each took office vowing to reform it, with a focus on smaller facilities and community programs, and said they accomplished much in their four-year terms. They say they’ll make juvenile justice a priority of the next four years. If history is a guide, solutions for how to handle young violent offenders could elude whoever wins in November, and the realities of slumping state tax revenue and other agenda items could quickly swamp campaign promises. Some say Ehrlich and O’Malley both deserve credit for paying attention to an agency that had long been neglected. Others say neither governor moved rapidly enough to bring change to a system that, when working properly, turns kids’ lives around. Child advocates point to a rise in the rearrest rate for juveniles released from youth facilities as the state pumps more money into the agency each year.