Ehrlich criticizes jail project that began on his watch
At a campaign appearance this week to talk up services to at-risk youth, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich criticized the $100 million jail for juveniles to be built in Baltimore as a "warehouse."
It was "certainly not our model," Ehrlich said of the facility designed to house as many as 230 young offenders awaiting trial as adults
"It's the antithesis of what we like to do. Large institutions typically do not work."
In fact, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Bykowicz reports in Sunday's newspaper, the project got its start under Ehrlich. In 2005, Ehrlich approved planning money for the facility and his administration conducted the first population projection survey. The survey arrived at an estimate similar to the one produced two years later under Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Stephen T. Moyer, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services under Ehrlich and his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the need for a juvenile detention center in Baltimore dates to an October 2000 Justice Department report.
"Governor Ehrlich began planning this because that's what the Justice Department told us to do," Moyer said.
State officials have agreed to review the planned capacity for the facility — a concession to groups who say the project is too big.
Teens awaiting trial as adults are now held in a wing at the Baltimore City Detention Center, an arrangement the Justice Department said lacks adequate separation from hardened adults.
But advocacy groups that include Baltimore's Safe and Sound Campaign, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Public Justice Center say the state should spend on intervention programs instead of huge jails. At a loud protest last month, they asked the governor to put the brakes on the project.
Construction of the juvenile detention center is scheduled to begin in the fall. The state has spent $12 million for planning, demolition and site preparation near other prison facilities in East Baltimore.
This week, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency questioned the number of juveniles that the state expects will face adult charges in the coming years, the projections on which officials based the maximum capacity of the detention center. The Oakland, Calif.-based organization says the projections are flawed because they are three years old and were compiled by the prison system.
A spokesman for O'Malley said prison and juvenile officials have been meeting with jail opponents and are open to ideas. Safe and Sound director Hathaway Ferebee said another meeting is scheduled for next week.
But state officials said it is unlikely that the project would be derailed even if the projection is revised downward. They said the capacity could be reduced, with some of the space now planned for beds redirected to other purposes.