Director of Corrections Walt Pesterfield told the Baltimore County Council during a Tuesday budget hearing that his department was working with the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to establish a memorandum of agreement that would divert child inmates from the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson.
Deborah St. Jean, director of the Maryland Public Defender’s Juvenile Protection Division, wrote a March 6 letter to the county that alleged child inmates were housed for up to 23 hours a day in intake cells that were flood prone and rat infested, that child inmates struggled to access adequate schooling and health care, and that they were exposed to contact with adult inmates in violation of state and federal youth detention center laws.
“We anticipate being able to work out a process where the juveniles will come into our facility and then, pending vacancies in the facility, be able to transport our inmates down to Baltimore City,” said Pesterfield, referring to the Youth Detention Center (YDC) on Greenmount Avenue.
Youth inmates who are charged as adults with committing crimes such as armed robbery and assault would be sent to the city’s juvenile detention center after being evaluated by county staff.
Democratic County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. ordered an internal investigation in response to the public defender’s letter and requests by the Baltimore County legislative delegation.
Pesterfield published a report late last month refuting the public defender’s accusations but said he “shared” concerns that the Towson jail was unsuitable to host youth inmates. He said during Tuesday’s meeting that his staff had made other adjustments to reduce contact between children and adult inmates, like no longer quarantining juveniles in the intake unit and sending them directly to a juvenile facility after processing.
St. Jean said in a statement that she “applaud[ed]” the county’s efforts to further separate child inmates by sending them to the city’s juvenile facility.
“Most children in the adult system face charges that are eligible for transfer to juvenile court, and should be held in a juvenile facility, run by the Department of Juvenile Services with rehabilitative services available,” she said. “We have been fighting for these transfers, with increased success. An MOU between the county and [the state] will address the segment of children who are not eligible for [Department of Juvenile Services] placement and remain vulnerable to incarceration in an adult jail.”
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he supported the correctional department’s pending agreement with the state, which the county law office is finalizing.
The State’s Attorney has always been able to send juvenile inmates to the Hickey School, a male youth detention center in the county, but removing youth inmates entirely from the Towson jail is a “new concept,” Shellenberger said.
“We’re just trying to put another option on the table for judges,” he said.
As of Tuesday, the Towson facility held 10 boys under 18 and no girls, according to Pesterfield