ANNAPOLIS- State legislators attacked the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ new “master plan” for the reorganization of its facilities Friday, saying that the new plan is too vague and underestimates costs.
“I’m slightly disappointed that this is the product after two years of work,” Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., D-Prince George’s, said in a joint hearing of four committees from the Senate and House of Delegates. “I’d say it’s a good first draft.”
The department’s 10-year, $111.8 million plan, created with consultants from Development Services Group, Inc., calls for the construction of four new youth centers, the replacement of four detention centers and the renovation of shelters and other facilities in the state.
The plan is based on a new regional structure which separates the state into four areas: Baltimore and Baltimore County, Southern Maryland, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Each region under the new plan would have at least one shelter care facility, one detention center and one committed youth facility so that offenders could be closer to their homes and families.
One of the consultants, Marcia Cohen, said that the regionalization will do away with situations like the state’s centers for low-risk, high-need juveniles being “all located and isolated in Western Maryland.” She said that it is possible each region would have its own headquarters.
Legislators said that the plan does not do enough for the state’s youth, however, arguing that the regional system does not necessarily mean better locations for facilities.
Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George’s, said that rebuilding facilities like the “concentration camp” Cheltenham Youth Facility in his county still leaves many juveniles isolated in an area with no public transportation.
“We are treating our Iraqi prisoners 1,000 times better than we’re treating our children in these facilities,” he said.
David Marsden, the plan project director, said that a facility like Cheltenham would likely be better off elsewhere, but would have to stay where it is because of the costs and difficulties of moving.
Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. said that the department is trying to push through program changes in facilities like Cheltenham, but that finding a new location is not feasible.
“There are a lot of people who come forward and say, ‘Well, just don’t locate it near me,'” he said.
Legislators also said the plan leaves out considerations for finding locations to build new facilities and likely underestimates construction costs, especially for the new 96-bed Baltimore County facility that will replace the Hickey School, which recently shut down its commitment programs.
“I just don’t think this is realistic in the cost,” said Del. Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel.
Laurie Dickeson, an architect that worked with the consultants, said that additional costs could be down the road, though planners did adjust for inflation over the 10-year period.
“It’s not a science in determining how much this is going to cost,” she said.
Lawmakers also asked the department about more specialized facilities within the regions, and sought more attention to aftercare programs and drug treatment. Giannetti asked how “after 10 years and $111 million” the state can only have one drug treatment facility, the Meadow Mountain facility in Garrett County, and no facilities devoted to aftercare for easing juveniles back into their schools and communities.
Cohen said that those functions will be integrated into existing facilities and that aftercare will not be a separate process from treatment.
Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Southern Maryland, bucked the trend of questioning and congratulated the department on their plan. “Some folks will never be satisfied, no matter what it is,” he said. “I hope we don’t get into the business of doing design by legislative committee.”