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Keep the Kids Away

North Baltimore Residents Worry Proposed Juvenile Center Will Be Detrimental to Neighborhoods

Christopher Myers
CHANGED MAN: Warren White, safety officer for the Waverly Improvement Association, said a simliar juvenile program got him back in school.

By Kate Leventhal | Posted 2/1/2006

The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services plans to put a day and evening reporting center for juvenile offenders at 2920 Greenmount Ave., and area residents are up in arms about it.

The 13,000-square-foot facility would serve 30 boys. Each boy assigned to the center would receive intense supervision in either day or evening “shifts” of about six hours, depending on his needs. During their shifts at the center, they would participate in activities, tutoring, and vocational training. Boys who have not committed crimes serious enough to warrant placement in traditional detention centers, but still require supervision, would be assigned to the center by juvenile courts until their trial dates.

At a public hearing at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Jan. 9, residents from the Waverly and Harwood neighborhood associations came prepared to fight with Kenneth Montague, secretary for the Department of Juvenile Services, which would run the center. About 40 people came to the meeting, and many were irate not only about the possibility of the facility being located in their neighborhood, but also that they had received little notice about the hearing.

Residents are concerned about the influx of juvenile offenders into a neighborhood that is already riddled with youth crime. Gertrude Williams, who was principal at the Barclay School in Waverly for 25 years, says she doesn’t trust the state to effectively supervise the kids and maintain the planned facility.

“They lie,” she says. “They’re just trying to find a place where they can stick more young people.”

The Greenmount location was not the Department of Juvenile Services’ first choice for the reporting center, Montague says. The agency originally identified a spot on Maryland Avenue in the Old Goucher neighborhood of Charles Village. But last summer the neighborhood objected, and the plan to open the center there was killed.

“Their issue was that there was an oversaturation of social service-type programs in the area,” Montague says. Old Goucher residents are trying to attract more commercial tenants, such as restaurants, he says, and felt the center would be detrimental to that goal.

State Del. Marshall Goodwin (D-40th District), who represents the Old Goucher area in the House of Delegates, says that in a four-by-six-block area of the neighborhood alone there are 47 human-services programs. He opposed the plan to place the center in the neighborhood before the state Board of Public Works, and after his testimony, Gov. Robert Ehrlich and the board decided to search for a new location.

The Department of General Services is responsible for the capital needs of Juvenile Services, Montague says. When his department said it needed at least 9,000 square feet to open a reporting center, General Services presented it with the building at 2920 Greenmount Ave. Montague says he was not sure how the location was selected.

According to Maryland state real-estate records, the building belongs to SLH Properties LLP. The two main partners in that company are Naomi and Larry Boltansky, real estate investors and political contributors whose family has long been in the pornography-distribution business (“Porno for Politicos,” Oct. 12, 2005).

Montague says that, should the facility open, it will be secure and it will serve nonviolent juvenile offenders from 12 to 17 years old. It will be staffed with case managers, resident advisers, teachers, a recreational specialist, a supervisor, a transportation officer, and volunteers. The center will be modeled on a similar one sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Chicago, which was opened in response to the number of nonviolent youthful offenders who failed to show up at court hearings or ended up being thrown into facilities with young people charged with violent crimes.

There are some in the Waverly area who understand what kind of an impact a center like the one Juvenile Services wants to open can have on a child. Warren White, 52, is the safety officer for the Waverly Improvement Association. He says he was arrested for several crimes in his youth and was sent to detention facilities, such as the Hickey School in Baltimore County, for his infractions. White says spending time in juvenile detention facilities, around kids who had committed much more serious crimes, taught him to be aggressive and how to be a better criminal. When he was 15, White says he was arrested for stealing pencils from school and sent to a youth program much like the one Juvenile Services has proposed to open in the Waverly area. White says the environment there was supportive and helped him re-enroll in school. He says he even began to play varsity football. “It changed who I am,” White says.

Studies have shown that cities using these reporting centers have had success with them. Between 1994 and ’97, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports, Cook County in Illinois (the county in which Chicago is located) lowered its rate of detention-center admissions for juveniles from about 70 percent of all youthful offenders to 45 percent. The report also states that in that time the county “cut in half the proportion of kids who failed to appear in court for their hearings or trials.” The one negative point in the report is that between 1994 and ’96 the county saw a 3 percent rise in juvenile crime recidivism.

The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services already has one reporting center in Druid Hill. Zarva Taru, an assistant area director with the center, says it has a high success rate: 85 percent of the kids who have been assigned to the center have not re-offended between the time they were placed with the center and their court dates, they were accountable every day to the program, and they showed up for their court dates, she says.

“The kids love it,” Taru says. “They tell us themselves.” She says parents have asked if their children could stay in the program even after their court dates, and kids from the center have been involved in community service projects, such as unloading trucks and stocking shelves for the Salvation Army. Taru says she hopes the project does go through in Waverly and that residents eventually will be proud to have such a program in their neighborhood.

The Department of Juvenile Services has been pleased with the program and hopes to open reporting centers citywide, Montague says.

But the fate of the Waverly facility is up in the air. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th) says members of the Baltimore House delegation are trying to freeze funding for the project in Annapolis until the neighborhood associations can come up with a plan they are comfortable with.

“Here’s the problem,” Clarke says. “[The center] sounds good, but we don’t have a lot of confidence that the number of youth would remain limited, that transportation would be arranged, and that the center wouldn’t expand in the neighborhood. We have no reason to be confident that the center would be maintained as proposed.”

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