State plans to spend 100 million on facility to hold juveniles charged as adults
CROWD: No education, no life!
DEMONSTRATOR: No education, no what?
CROWD: No education, no life!
DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: Plans to construct a new youth jail in Baltimore have drawn harsh criticism from some community members and organizations. The $100 million dollar detention facility project began under Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich in 2005 and continued under current governor Martin O’Malley. The latest of several actions to have been organized against the jail was held on October 4, with hundreds of people attending a march held outside Baltimore City Detention Center. Advocates against the proposed jail say that the money should be spent instead on building and maintaining schools and recreation centers and funding rehabilitative youth programs.
CATHERINE PUGH, MARYLAND STATE SENATOR, DISTRICT 40, BALTIMORE CITY: Every child deserves an education. There are no throwaway children in our society. And when you build jails and don’t build schools, then you’re saying that you prefer to have crime in our streets as opposed to educated young people. It costs us $40,000 to $80,000 a year to incarcerate a child. It costs $15,000 or less to educate our children.
DOUGHERTY: The proposed site for the jail is located in an area of downtown Baltimore that already houses a number of other detention and correctional facilities. Kinji Scott travels to the Baltimore County Detention Center several times a week to visit his 15-year-old son, who is being held with the general adult population while awaiting trial for a crime in which he has been charged as an adult. While initially opposed to the planned youth detention facility, Scott now feels that it has the potential to better ensure the well-being and safety of detained juveniles by keeping them out of adult population jails and by placing more of an emphasis on rehabilitative youth programs.
KINJI SCOTT, PASTOR, MY FATHER’S HOUSE MINISTRIES, BALTIMORE: Juvenile facilities are more treatment-driven, and that’s what we need. Even–and what we really need is a facility for juveniles who have been tried as an adult/treatment center, because we cannot–and I totally agree with the–I totally agree that we cannot just throw juveniles away, we can’t just throw kids away. So we have to treat them. But we do not have a facility to treat a man. That’s the problem we have. I understand a lot of people saying, we got $100 million that we invest, and $103 million, whatever the numbers may be today, in building this youth facility. Let’s put that money in schools and programs. We have to be very honest. We can have as many programs as you want to, but those programs do not stop all children from committing violent and heinous crimes, and as a result of that, we still have a population of young people, regardless of how small it is, we still have a population of young people who are committing crimes. And when they commit crimes, what do we do? We place them with adults or we place them in a facility that caters and provides services to those young people while they’re incarcerated or while they’re detained.
DOUGHERTY: Most opponents of the jail, like organizer Maryland Shaw, agree that youth should not be held in general adult population jails and that more of a focus must be placed on rehabilitation. However, the question remains whether spending millions of dollars on the construction of a new facility is the best way to allocate already strained public resources for young people.
MARYLAND SHAW, LEAD ORGANIZER, BALTIMORE ALGEBRA PROJECT: We don’t need to build another facility to not house them with adults. We can use an existing facility. There’s plenty of empty buildings in Baltimore city that we could use, that we could renovate. It wouldn’t take nearly as much as $100 million. Yes, we do need a place to put the youth. No, we don’t need $100 million to construct the new facility, because if we have $100 million in our hands, we should be using it to education, to, like I said, vocational centers, to youth jobs.
DOUGHERTY: Many of those opposed to the youth jail find fundamental questions about state spending priorities at the center of the conflict. For some, a visible lack of public spending allocated for young black youth in areas like education and social programs directly correlates to a history of racist policies and abandonment in cities like Baltimore across the country. Baltimore pastor and activist Reverend Heber Brown III says that the jail is just another example of misplaced spending priorities that will disproportionately impact the city’s young black residents.
HEBER BROWN III, PASTOR, PLEASANT HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH, BALTIMORE: Well, I think for me one of the chief and primary issues relates and centers around the issue of the discrimination that youth of African descent face here in this city, and that there is so much money that is devoted toward their incarceration, that’s devoted toward their punishment, the penal system, there’s a long history of that in this country and controlling the lives of African people. So for me that’s one of the issues, that if a budget is a moral document, that it is highly immoral for the state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore to spend millions of dollars on the incarceration of African youth here in the city, and particularly when, you know, you’re ready to–when the state is ready to spend millions of dollars to build a world-class prison, but we don’t have world-class schools and we don’t have world-class recreation centers, we don’t have world-class job opportunities, 21st-century job opportunities for our young people.
DOUGHERTY: Some organizers opposed to the jail also worry about the potential impacts that diverted spending on the facility could have on future incarceration rates of youth who are charged as adults in Baltimore. They fear that once another facility is constructed, the beds’ll be filled one way or another, further reinforcing negative messages about the state’s expectations and spending priorities for Baltimore youth of color.
DEVERICK MURRAY, VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMMING, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: In Maryland, there’s 24 prisons. There are 24 correctional facilities in Maryland. Ten of them are in Baltimore City. Eight of them are all right here in this general area where we are. So when you have, you know, 24 prisons in a state and 10 in one specific city, this city that has 67 percent black people in it, or roughly 60-70 percent black people in it, I mean, that’s clearly on purpose. There’s a reason for that. I think that the main thing that the governor and that the city and that the mayor are worried about is return on investment. They know for every bed that they build, they have to fill it. For every bed that they fill, they produce work from it.
KIM ARMSTRONG, UNITED PARENTS OF INCARCERATED YOUTH: So when you take resources and you build a jail, that’s sending another message to children. We just took $100 million plus and are investing in building a jail, when Baltimore City has not built a brand new school in over 50 years. So what kind of message does that send to our children? What kind of message does it send to us as a community? What kind of message does that send to African Americans, when this city is predominantly African Americans? So who do you think they’re going to be putting in that jail? And if they build it, they’re going to find a way to fill it. So that means there’s going to be some more legislation that’s happening for–that’s going to increase the incarceration of young people. And this jail is specifically going to be built for young people who have been charged as adults. So that means more young people may be at risk as being–having charged as adults through the state’s attorney’s office.
DOUGHERTY: Though the new youth facility would be run by the state of Maryland, as opposed to a private company like in some other youth detention centers in the United States, millions of dollars have already been made by some companies involved in the planning and design phases. Many see a drive for profits among certain individuals and corporations with political connections as a motivating factor in the push for the new jail, in a trend reflected with other new detention facilities being built across the United States in what some refer to as the prison-industrial complex.
BROWN: –who are the people who are really benefiting from this? And what I found out was that these are people who are largely behind the scenes. You don’t see their faces on the news, you don’t see their names printed in the paper, but they are making millions of dollars, whether it’s millions of dollars in the planning and architecture and design, in the demolition, the construction. Millions of dollars are being made by people who don’t have a vested interest in the youth here in Baltimore City.
DOUGHERTY: Governor O’Malley’s office told The Real News that Governor O’Malley continues to support the youth detention facility project, which is now making its way through the legislative process. Organizers are preparing more community meetings and future actions to continue challenging what they see as a serious misallocation of limited state resources for Maryland’s youth. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.
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