WASHINGTON – More and more Maryland juveniles are landing in adult jails, where they face a high rate of physical abuse and a lack of educational resources, according to a new national study.
The Human Rights Watch called Maryland’s jails “inappropriate places for youth,” who face fights and lack of rehabilitation programs even when they are segregated from adult inmates.
The worst jails in the state are deteriorating, present unsanitary conditions and fellow inmates who have armed themselves, said the study. It was based on interviews with advocates, prisons officials and more than 60 juveniles who were being held in Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Washington counties.
But LaMont Flanagan, commissioner for the Maryland Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, called the study “unfair and is . tease toward biasness” because of its reliance on inmate interviews.
“In spite of the fact that we have an antiquated old, poorly designed facility (in Baltimore) that was built in the 1800s, we provide them a structured environment that enables them to progress,” Flanagan said. “I believe that we offer an array of services to all in particular to juveniles.”
The Baltimore City Detention Center was singlld out by the study for its poor physical condition, while the Prince George’s County Correctional Center was cited for a lack of educational opportunities for detainees.
One detainee told Human Rights Watch that “fighting happens every night,” in the Montgomery County Youthful Offender Unit. The main problem with the smaller jails like Washington County’s was that adults and juveniles were often thrown in the same areas, the report said.
“We were interested in the whole phenomenon of youth being tried as adults,” said Jo Becker, children’s advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch in New York. “We had heard some reports about the Baltimore City jails in particular, a lot of people were interested in having us look into it.”
The report recommended increased training for jail staff who have to deal with juveniles, more money for education, segregation of youths and adults, and a ban on isolation as a form of discipline.
The 169-page Maryland study was one of several the organization has done on states that have made it easier for youths to be tried as adults and sent to adult facilities.
For one year, the group examined jails and detention centers around the state. They interviewed more than 60 juvenile detainees: more than 40 in the Baltimore facility, 10 in Prince George’s, seven in Montgomery County and four in Washington County.
Maryland is part of a “nationwide trend” of charging juveniles as adults, the group said.
Previously, juveniles would go before the juvenile courts where the judge would decide how the cases would be handled. But in 1994, the state expanded the list of offenses that automatically sent a juvenile case to adult criminal courts.
“A lot of states have whittled away from the juvenile courts,” said Michael Bochenek, counsel to the Human Rights Watch’s children’s division and author of the study. “That means the judge has no discretion over it at all.”
After the change in Maryland’s law, the percentage of juveniles who were tried in adult court rose from 2 percent in 1994 to 5 percent in 1996, according to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice. Last year, the number fell back to 2 percent, or 844 juveniles who were tried as adults.
“It’s encouraging that the number has gone down. We still have concern with the way they’re sent to adult court,” Bochenek said.