ANNAPOLIS — Treatment and conditions for girls in the juvenile justice system are gradually improving nearly a year after the state separated and moved the most serious offenders, but work remains to be done, according to advocates and state officials.
The total number of incident reports involving girls in the system has decreased since the Department of Juvenile Services separated the long-term committed girls and the short-term detention population — girls who are either detained before their court appearances or have been committed to the department and are pending placement.
There were 198 incidents of everything from assault to minor group disturbances in the most recent quarter, down from 290 the last time the populations were housed together.
The Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, an independent monitor based in the state attorney general’s office, and other advocates, have long noted disparities in the treatment of girls in the juvenile justice system. The department separated the committed girls in November in order to specialize and improve treatment.
“Basically, we’re able to better manage the behavior at the two different facilities because you can focus on one population,” said Jay Cleary, spokes-man for the Department of Juvenile Services.
Before the move, many of both the long-term committed girls and the short-term detention population were housed together at the Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel. Approximately 11 committed girls now reside at J. Deweese Carter Children’s Center in Chestertown.
“My understanding is the move was a very good one,” said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, and a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the women’s legislative caucus.
However, the split wasn’t an immediate success. In the first quarterly monitoring unit report after the committed girls were relocated, the monitor cited some poor conditions and violations of department policies at Carter. Staff members overused restraints and incorrectly filed incident reports, and quality of bathroom privacy and food was not up to standards.
Cleary attributed these issues to the staff transitioning to learn to work with girls, since Carter previously housed boys. Behavior also worsened because the department temporarily suspended off-ground trips at all DJS facilities as it addressed gaps in its transportation policy.
As the staff adjusted, conditions have improved and restraints are being used more correctly, Cleary said. Juvenile services’ policy mandates restraints be used as a last resort to control a dangerous situation.