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Mobtown Beat

Urine Trouble

Residents Who Live Around Parole Office Claim Ex Cons are Trying to Buy Clean Urine Samples from Elementary-School Kids

David Morley
Pissing Distance: The playground of dallas Nicholas Elementary is across the street from the Division of Parole and Probation building.

By David Morley | Posted 8/4/2004

The going rate for a clean urine sample from a child at North Baltimore’s Dallas Nicholas Elementary School is $5 these days. At least that’s what parolees and probationers visiting the nearby state Division of Parole and Probation are offering, parents and school administrators say. The school, which has about 425 kids in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, is located right across the street from the Parole and Probation building.

“It has happened twice that we know of in the month of June,” says Dallas Nicholas Principal Irma Johnson, who has been at the school for seven years. “This doesn’t include the times before.” Johnson says she and other school administrators have complained in the past to the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which runs the Division of Parole, that kids were being solicited for clean urine. And she says she is certain there have been instances in which kids didn’t report to teachers or parents that it was happening.

Division of Parole spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew says that “we’ve never been able to corroborate that story” about the urine solicitation.

Johnson says, however, that the neighborhood is growing increasingly concerned about “the element [parolees] bring into the neighborhood” around Dallas Nicholas. The principal says when she tried to report that children were being approached by Parole and Probation clients, “the parole people told me to call Baltimore City Police, and we have. We have called Delegate Salima Marriott, too.”

To make matters more uneasy for those living near the parole building, over the past several months the Department of Public Safety has been considering either moving or renovating the Division of Parole building. The division, which sees more than 30,000 parolees and probationers per month for such things as routine drug testing and counseling, in January announced plans to renovate its outdated 1920s-era facility. Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods protested the proposal to invest an estimated $15 million in the facility because, they say, it does not belong in a residential neighborhood. The Department of Public Safety briefly looked at moving the Division of Parole to a site at 2600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the Penn North neighborhood, which is already plagued by crime and drugs, but the proposal was quickly shot down by the protests of community activists who say their neighborhood has enough trouble as it is. Now the Department of Public Safety is going back to its plan to renovate its building at 2100 Guilford Ave., and neighbors are not pleased.

Residents of the three North Baltimore neighborhoods surrounding the present site of the Parole and Probation building—Barclay, East Baltimore Midway, and Old Goucher—are resisting the department’s renovation plan. About a year ago, the three neighborhoods formed the Barclay, Midway, and Old Goucher Coalition to act as a watchdog and development force in the area. Representatives of the organization complain that the parole facility brings 700 parolees per day, including burglars, robbers, and murders on mandatory release, into the struggling residential area. (Sex offenders were removed from the roster at this location in May 2004; they now report to a parole office on Gay Street in a nonresidential part of downtown.) The coalition says that it’s time the Department of Public Safety, which has operated in the Guilford Avenue building for 34 years, move its parole operations further away from homes and schools, preferably on the outskirts of the neighborhood—or out of it completely.

Mel Freeman, a consultant for the neighborhood coalition and a former candidate for City Council, says the neighborhood is tired of dealing with the unsavory aspects of having the parole division as a neighbor.

“Everyone from the city comes there,” Freeman says. “This center is public enemy Number 1.” He maintains that the number of criminals attracted to the area is depleting the quality of life in the area, which is now hoping to attract some economic-development projects.

Jennifer Martin, president of the Old Goucher Community Association, says the coalition and neighborhood associations don’t necessarily want to drive the parole division out of the neighborhood completely. She stresses that she and her fellow community boosters do not embrace a “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) mentality toward the facility.

“We know there are people with drug problems in our own neighborhood who use the facility,” she says. “What we’re opposed to is the burden of the whole city coming to our neighborhood. We’re being asked to shoulder more than our burden.”

Martin says the facility would be better placed away from the area’s densely populated residential streets.

But Division of Parole officials say that bureaucracy and practicality will likely decide where the agency ends up.

“One of the biggest hurdles we have in looking at new facilities is that the facility has to be centrally located to public transportation,” Bartholomew says. “You can’t mandate [parolees] to be under criminal supervision and not give them a way to get there. That’s not fair.”

And the Division of Parole isn’t the only decision-maker about where it goes or how much money will be allocated for renovation or new building; it is, like all state agencies, a tenant of a state-owned building managed and maintained by Maryland’s Department of General Services. In addition to maintaining state-owned buildings, the Department of General Services is the project manager for renovations and expansions of state properties.

“We don’t have any say where [General Services] moves us,” Bartholomew says. Rather, the Division of Parole provides a list of its needs, such as square footage and parking, and General Services finds a suitable location.

General Services spokeswoman Anne Hubbard says that it would be harder for the Division of Parole to construct a new facility at this point because it would have to negotiate its plans with community representatives, “according to the legislation that was passed this last session.” In this year’s state budget, $2.5 million was allotted to purchase land adjacent to the Baltimore City Detention Center to construct a modern facility that would alleviate problems at the jail. But in order to receive the money, the language in the funding bill notes, the Department of Public Safety must submit a master plan that shows “no plans to expand correctional facilities in Baltimore City south of Monument Street and meets with the Department of General Services and communities and elected officials affected by the [department’s] construction activities.”

It would be much easier for the department to simply renovate its old facility on Guilford because, Hubbard says, that would not constitute an “expansion” of a facility and would therefore not require the same meetings with elected officials and community representatives. “This is just a renovation,” she says, though parts of the parking lot would be used to accommodate some new portions of the building.

In the meantime, Principal Johnson must continue to deal with a uniquely uncomfortable situation: Parents call and complain about the activities of parolees on their way to the Division of Parole, specifically, she says, about the solicitation of urine samples. But since the activities aren’t actually occurring on school property, she can’t do much about it but report it to the police.

Bartholomew counters that Department of General Services guards patrol outside the parole building, making it difficult for that kind of activity to go unnoticed. But Old Goucher’s Martin and others insist that the Division of Parole is just not a good fit for the community in its present location; making it bigger will not make the problems any better, they say.

“They can say it’s not an expansion,” Martin says. “But the number of square feet is growing. It’s an expansion.”

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