Schools Take Backseat to Jails for Baltimore City’s Black Youth

Schools Take Backseat to Jails for Baltimore City's Black Youth
A guard gets ready to secure the gate after a vehicle leaving the corrections complex passes under the "Never Again," sign, a landmark seen by all who exit. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Freddie Gray’s hometown of Baltimore has explicitly shown its sentiments towards the inner city residents and in particular, the Black youth and schools. The city recently unveiled its $35 million youth detention facility to much fanfare and the first to occupy the new digs will be the inner city youth.

Located at 926 Greenmount Ave. , the youth detention center is 60,537 square feet, stands two stories tall, and can house up to 60 juveniles – 50 males and 10 females. The facility puts the juveniles in their own cell, provides a workout room, and access to medical, dental, and behavioral health treatment that could be considered substandard after a closer look.

The facility was a long time coming with the initial plans for the facility (a whopping $100 million in 2007) scrapped after facing community resistance. Youth advocates and community leaders organized and rallied against the egregious spending stifling the plans. They argued that the outlandish price tag would be better spent on programs and institutions that would focus on prevention tactics to keep the youth from getting into trouble in the first place.

Schools Take Backseat to Jails for Baltimore City's Black Youth
Baltimore,Md.–4/8/2002–scanned 4/9/2002–photo by Jed Kirschbaum/staff–Inmates at the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) get searched by members of the Special Security Unit which has been instituting new search technology in addition to tried and true search methods.

The originally planned facility was said to house 230 youth… at a time when juvenile delinquency was at a decline with only 92 juveniles being kept in adult facilities. After those plans were shelved with the help of activists, Governor Martin O’malley’s administration pushed a scaled down version with a price tag of $70 million. Once again, the plans could not stand up to public pressure and opposition.

It wasn’t until March of 2015, after being warned by the U.S. Justice Dept that the state was in violation of the law by housing juveniles with adult offenders did the Board of Public Works push through the new 60-bed facility. The cost… $30 million with an additional $5 million for the design.

Maryland Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen T. Moyer said, “We intend to use this facility to help change the lives of our troubled youth. The facility provides an opportunity to get them back on the right side of the criminal justice system where they can be productive citizens in the city and not come back to this facility.”

Now according to the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore houses fewer than 15 youth on average a day. In fact, the daily average population in Baltimore’s facility has dropped significantly from 44 in fiscal year 2013 to just 9 this past fiscal year.

So if the numbers are declining, what is the need or demand for such a lavish youth detention facility? Any person with an average business acumen is aware that in order for your business to succeed there needs to be a demand for your supply. If the numbers are declining, what is the purpose of shooting for a 230-bed facility let alone one that currently beds 60? The city loses countless dollars if they are unable to fill the beds to gain the taxpayer dollars per inmate needed to run the facility. What new laws and ordinances does Baltimore city plan to enact to be able to fill these beds with juvenile offenders? Why invest in youth offenses when you can curtail most youth infractions through youth centers, schools, and summer job programs to keep the youth busy?

“It’s so much money that could have been spent in the community to meet kids’ needs like schools, to prevent them from coming into the court system entirely,” said Melanie Shapiro, director of juvenile justice policy for the Office of the Public Defender.

The public defender’s office has been rallying to have all juveniles charged with a crime to start in the juvenile system instead of being immediately brought into adult court. At the moment, public defenders have to request waiver hearings to attempt to have their cases moved from adult court to juvenile court which typically has more lenient sentencing and more opportunities for rehabilitation.

Maybe, just maybe, Baltimore is more interested in passing on the slave labor from generation to generation than empowering the youth through schools and other preventive programs.

Like they say, “Once a slave, always a slave.”

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