Violence is on the rise at a handful of Maryland’s juvenile detention facilities. Staff members at the Victor Cullen Center used handcuffs to restrain youths nearly 200 times in 2011, up from 36 times in 2010. At Cheltenham Youth Facility, riots and other “group disturbances” took place 65 times in 2011, up from a dozen times in 2010.
All of this information was readily available in a routine report on a state website, and helped lead to The Baltimore Sun’s look this weekend at issues in the state Department of Juvenile Services. The document was filed under Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s StateStat program. (Reports for most state agencies pop up every month or two here.)
A little more digging produced annual report of the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, a watchdog arm of the state attorney general’s office. There, the unit detailed not only statistics deemed troublesome, but discussions of the factors contributing to the problems. That includes high levels of overtime and turnover among staff, as well as long waits for youths sitting in detention centers instead of reform schools or treatment programs.
But the people affected by the system helped bring the story to life. Interviews with stakeholders, advocates and watchdogs for juvenile justice painted a more rich picture of the problems. Some were most concerned with the strain violence places on staff, while others lamented the lack of options for youths needing a place to go.
In 2008 Maryland enacted severe regulations regarding the tools residential centers and treatment facilities are able to use. As a result, there are no longer voluntary placement options for some youth where such placement would be appropriate.
“It’s a complex issue,” Nick Moroney, director of the monitoring unit, said of the sources contributing to the violence. “You’re talking about kids who are frustrated and waiting to go to a placement, and not going to the placement.”
Critics of the system, meanwhile, have a lot of ideas when it comes to solutions. “More money” is always a common answer, while others call for more radical change.
MD does not need more money. What it needs is a competent administration which it looks like it might actually be getting under Maroney who seems to be facing reality rather than spewing some politically correct nonsense to appease some interest group with no personal stake.
“The root of the problem is, it’s only through behavior modification that these kids are going to come out differently,” Sen. Jim Brochin said. “They’re not doing it right now.”
While behavior modification is a noble end-goal, the first priority is and always must be the youth’s and staff’s safety. Without a safe environment, the behavior modification Sen. Brochin is calling for will not and cannot take place.