By Julie Bykowicz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 2, 2010; B08
Maryland officials have agreed to review the planned capacity for a $100 million jail for juveniles in Baltimore, a concession to groups that say it is too big.
The jail is designed for as many as 230 teensagers facing adult charges, more than double the number now behind bars. Now held in a wing at the Baltimore City Detention Center, such teens are not adequately separated from adults, the Justice Department says.
Advocacy groups say the state should spend money on intervention instead of huge jails. At a protest last month, they asked the governor to put the brakes on.
Construction of the detention center is to begin in the fall. The state has spent $12 million for planning, demolition and site preparation; a $100 million jail for women is in the planning stages.
Last week, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency questioned the number of juveniles that the state expects to face adult charges. Officials based the projections on the maximum capacity of the detention center. The Oakland, Calif.-based organization says the projections are old and came from the prison system.
A spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said prison and juvenile officials have been meeting with jail opponents and are open to ideas. One foe said another meeting is scheduled soon.
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 space now planned for beds redirected to other purposes.
Alex Busansky, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, said parts of the facility could be used differently if the state determines that less bed space is needed.
"I think it's great they're recasting the forecasting numbers," he said. "I hope that they would not stop there and that they would take a look at opportunities to build differently or repurpose the building they have planned."He suggested that use of part of the facility as a community center.
Meanwhile, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who is trying to win back the state's top job from O'Malley, criticized the Baltimore jail project as a "warehouse."
It was "certainly not our model," Ehrlich said. "It's the antithesis of what we like to do. Large institutions typically do not work."
The project got its start under Ehrlich. In 2005, he approved planning money for the facility and conducted the first population projection survey.