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State will stop commingling girls at Waxter Center

ANNAPOLIS – Committed girls at the troubled Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel will be transferred to J. DeWeese Carter Youth Facility on the Eastern Shore by November, according to the Department of Juvenile Services.

The move addresses complaints about commingling committed girls with detained girls at Waxter, a violation of state law.

Waxter will remain open as a detention facility for girls who are waiting to be adjudicated or waiting to be placed for treatment.

Carter is a 15-bed residential facility for boys. Current residents will be transferred to the Lower Eastern Shore Children’s Center, or other facilities.

There are three centers in Maryland that currently house girls: Waxter, Maryland’s only all-female facility; Alfred D. Noyes Center in Rockville, and Lower Eastern Shore Children’s Center in Salisbury.

“For too long, girls who were in need of secure treatment did not have their own facility in the DJS system. Now, Carter will provide an appropriate environment to treat our highest-risk girls with an entire staff solely focused on providing treatment services,” said DJS Secretary Sam Abed, in a press release.

The move comes after years of disturbing internal and external reports about Waxter.

The attorney general’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, a state-run independent organization, has released several reports focused on Waxter.

The reports describe overcrowding and understaffing, allegations of physical abuse by staff and commingling of girls who have committed more serious crimes with those detained for minor offenses.

“I think it’s a very positive thing that the treatment program is being moved out of Waxter so there isn’t comingling anymore,” said Nick Moroney, director of the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit.

An April 2009 monitoring unit report described “intermingling” between pre-adjudication girls (detention) and post-disposition (committed) girls for sleeping. The staff said mixing the girls was common and often the only way to ensure each girl had a bed.

It is against state law to mix girls in court-ordered treatment with those awaiting adjudication.

“They never should have had them in the same building,” Moroney said.

Although moving the committed girls solves some problems, questions remain.

In March 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union, in cooperation with girls at Waxter, released a report on conditions in the facility. The girls described Waxter as having windows that were “caked with dirt” and cafeteria tables that had been “urinated on.”

“Waxter and Cheltenham Youth Facility both need to be prioritized in the form of a new physical plant,” Moroney said. “They need to be replaced. They’re outdated, they’re inappropriate for youth residents because they’re so outdated. They’re not really suited for what they’re being used for.”

A teacher was raped and murdered in February 2010 in Cheltenham, a residential facility for boys in Prince George’s County.

There have been several attempts to close Waxter. The Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit recommended closing Waxter in a 2007 report. In 2010, Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, sponsored a bill to close the facility, but it failed.

The Carter Center once faced similar problems.

An October 2007 report by the monitoring unit describes Carter as overcrowded, understaffed and lacking adequate services to provide for the boys’ basic needs.

The report details situations where boys were locked in their rooms or required to stay in their “plastic sleeping boat” beds in the hallway simply because there were not enough adults to supervise them.

There are no bathrooms in rooms, so boys had to have a staff member release them from their room to use the bathroom. When a staff member was unavailable, boys sometimes had no choice but to urinate on the floor or wall of their cell.

The monitors wrote that the conditions were a result of “years of neglect from the state of Maryland, the public’s ignorance of these conditions, and the ‘forgotten’ status to which we relegate children who have broken the law.”

Since then, conditions have improved significantly.

In 2010 and the first-quarter report for 2011, Carter did not exceed the capacity of 15 boys. Each boy has his own room and bed, and no boys were forced to sleep in the hallway.

In a July 2010 Quality Improvement Report by the Department of Juvenile Services, Carter was given “superior performance” marks in student supervision and school environment and climate, and satisfactory performance in a variety of other areas, including staffing and availability of medical services.

But advocates worry about moving the girls far away from their communities, and wonder how Carter’s staff, used to dealing with detained boys, will handle committed girls.

Jay Cleary, director of communications for DJS, said the Carter staff will receive training in gender responsive services and behavioral management to learn how to effectively deal with committed girls.

“The two different populations have different needs and different treatment needs,” Cleary said.

The relocation of the girls to the Eastern Shore can put them very far from their families for several months. However, upon request, DJS will also provide complimentary transportation from Waxter to Carter for the girls’ families

“We understand the distance issue,” Cleary said. “That’s why we’ve offered transportation from Waxter to Carter so the families can have their regularly scheduled visits. We think that will help a lot in terms of keeping these families together.”

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