The failure of ‘baby booking’

Michael Nakan | December 27, 2010

Every year, Baltimore City asks: “Why?”

Why is the homicide rate in this city so high? Why is there such rampant addiction to drugs? Why are so many kids growing up to be violent criminals?

The answer may lie, in part, within the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, whose most striking feature is its sheer amount of infrastructure.

There is a school equipped with dozens of computers, a built-in basketball court and a lounge with video games and movies. On Thanksgiving, the center hosted a dinner for all of the juveniles in the facility and their parents.

But wait — isn’t this just the place where kids are held before trial? Actually, no. Maryland law dictates that detention facilities must not only hold juveniles awaiting their trial but also adjudicated minors who are awaiting placement into rehabilitation facilities.

What that essentially means is that juveniles wait for their trials in the detention center, get adjudicated, and then are bounced back to the detention centers, where they await placement in a more permanent residential treatment facility, or RTF.

It is this interim period, a quirk unique to Maryland, that exacerbates some of the deep-rooted issues in Baltimore City. In addition to draining money and cramming these detention centers to the limit in order to try and accommodate all juvenile offenders awaiting placement, it also creates an environment where nonviolent offenders, convicted of petty crimes like trespassing or shoplifting, can be exposed to a far harsher peer group — including gang members — than they would have outside the facility. This has the potential for creating a more serious criminal inside of “baby booking,” as the facility is known.

To compound the problem, the juveniles who commit the most violent crimes (and therefore are in need of the most immediate treatment) are frequently the hardest to place into one of these facilities. There is only one RTF in Maryland that even purports to take the most violent offenders: the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County. But after a riot in 2009, it has become less likely to approve a violent juvenile from Baltimore.

Usually, then, the most hardened offenders are sent out of state to privatized RTFs designed to deal with the most dangerous juveniles in the country. Maryland ends up footing the bill for transporting and supporting these minors.

Read more at:,0,7698763.story

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