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Maryland to close two juvenile detention centers

This piece originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

Maryland is closing two juvenile detention facilities at the end of next month, moving 10 children to other centers.

The state Department of Juvenile Services announced Friday morning it would close the all-girls J. DeWeese Carter Youth Facility in Kent County and the Meadow Mountain Youth Center in Garrett County.

Sam Abed, the state’s juvenile services secretary, said the closures were due to the ongoing decline of children in state custody and the inefficiency of operating such small centers. The closures were under consideration before the coronavirus further drove down the number of children in DJS custody, he said.

“The case for closing these facilities and looking at overall residential capacity overall was very strong prior to COVID,” Abed said. “We have had declining placements for some time.”

The state currently has 45 children committed to state facilities, plus about 150 in detention awaiting their trial. Another 189 children are in privately-run and out-of-state facilities.

Fewer children are entering the juvenile justice system, as most court operations are on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, children continue to be released from the system, both out of health concerns and as they complete their terms in custody.

“This is sort of a one-way door right now. ... There will not be new placements for some time,” Abed said.

The three girls assigned to the Carter center will be moved across the state to the Backbone Mountain Youth Center in Garrett County, where they’ll be housed in a separate building with separate staff from the boys’ program there.

Carter was closed briefly this spring, and the girls were moved temporarily to the Lower Eastern Shore Children’s Center, when the center’s food service vendor was unable to fulfill its contract, Abed said. Carter lacks its own kitchen facility.

The seven boys at Meadow Mountain will be moved to Backbone Mountain and the Green Ridge Youth Center in Allegany County.

More than 80 state employees at the two facilities will be offered jobs elsewhere in the system, Abed said.

Even when the court system resumes regular operations, and the number of children in the system increases, Abed doesn’t expect the population to increase to the point where either facility is needed.

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, the union representing DJS workers, said the closures are a continuation of the state’s shift from state-run facilities to private facilities.

“This is a reflection of two things,” Moran said. “They released a number of youth due to the COVID outbreak. And this is a result of part of their push to privatize things.”

Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, said while the state has taken some positive steps, it’s urgent to continue to reduce the populations in juvenile facilities due to the pandemic.

“I will commend the department, because there has been a significant reduction in committed youth since March in response to the pandemic,” he said. “What I would hope is the reduction that we are seeing is being sustained moving forward and built upon.”

This piece originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun.


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