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Baltimore County agrees to move youth detainees to city juvenile jail when space permits

The agreement said if space becomes needed at the Youth Detention Center for a Baltimore City minor, staff from the Towson adult jail will pick up the Baltimore County detainee housed there within hours and bring the minor back to Towson

Baltimore Youth Detention Center

The Youth Detention Center at 926 Greenmount Avenue

Kim Hairston /TNS

By Cassidy Jensen
Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Baltimore County agreed last week to move detainees under 18 charged as adults to a Baltimore City juvenile jail when space allows, months after the Office of the Maryland Public Defender criticized conditions for minors at the Towson jail.

The Youth Detention Center on Greenmount Avenue, a facility operated by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services that houses Baltimore City minors charged as adults, can now hold county youth awaiting trial, according to a Jan. 1 memorandum of understanding.

Although the agreement obtained by The Baltimore Sun went into effect at the start of 2024, no youth have been transferred to the city facility.

County spokesperson Erica Palmisano said there were 12 minors — 11 boys and one girl — at the Baltimore County Detention Center on Monday. Palmisano said the county jail has so far received five transfer orders for detainees and that staff will move “eligible individuals” based on bed availability at the Youth Detention Center.

County officials began working on the deal after the Office of the Maryland Public Defender sent a letter in March 2023 accusing the Towson jail of confining youth in poor conditions. In addition to adults, the county jail houses minors who are charged as adults and either can’t be held in a Maryland Department of Juvenile Services facility or are awaiting a hearing to determine whether their case will move down to juvenile court.

Deborah St. Jean, director of the public defender’s Juvenile Protection Division, wrote in the letter that children were held in rodent-infested intake cells for 23 hours a day, denied access to proper education and healthcare, and came into contact with adult inmates in violation of state and federal laws. St. Jean’s letter suggested moving minors to the Youth Detention Center as one possible solution.

A county investigation found some of the letter’s claims were unfounded, but Baltimore County Director of Corrections Walt Pesterfield said he shared concerns about the detention center’s suitability for youth. Pesterfield also told the Baltimore County Council last May that jail staff had made changes to reduce interactions between children and adults at the jail.

District Public Defender for Baltimore County Jim Dills called the recent agreement “a step in the right direction” in a statement Tuesday to The Baltimore Sun.

“We hope to continue to make progress in ensuring children are never housed in an adult detention center,” Dills said. “Although [the Youth Detention Center ] is an improvement over [the Baltimore County Detention Center ], children in pretrial custody should be in rehabilitative environment, under [ Department of Juvenile Services ] supervision, as opposed to incarceration through an adult correctional agency.”

The agreement finalized last week said the Towson jail is “an adult detention facility with space, time, transportation, movement, staff, safety, and security challenges,” while the Youth Detention Center “is a youth detention facility specifically designed to house youthful offenders and will be able to allow them to remain outside of the sight and sound of incarcerated adults in compliance” with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The city detention center will accept county detainees only if it has enough space and resources, the agreement said.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said the ability to transfer youth could be especially important for female detainees, since there isn’t a “proper” place for girls at the Baltimore County jail.

“A lot of times, they kept them in the medical center,” Shellenberger said.

The agreement said if space becomes needed at the Youth Detention Center for a Baltimore City minor, staff from the Towson adult jail will pick up the Baltimore County detainee housed there within hours and bring the minor back to Towson. Similarly, if overcrowding means the Youth Detention Center needs space to house a Baltimore City boy in the area usually designated for girls, the county agrees to accommodate the Baltimore County girl.

Asked how frequently the Youth Detention Center meets or exceeds its capacity to house inmates, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said the agency does not discuss facility capacity statistics.

Baltimore City Schools will provide education to county youth held at the city detention center, according to the agreement, with Baltimore County Public Schools or the Baltimore County Detention Center reimbursing the school system for the per diem cost per student. Similarly, the state-run center will provide youth with mental health treatment, which St. Jean’s letter claimed juvenile detainees did not receive in Towson.

The agreement is set to run for four years with an option to extend for two three-year terms.

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