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Editorial Advisory Board: Fair and square for girls

House Bill 394 is a simple bill giving a simple directive to the Department of Juvenile Services: Provide the girls you serve with “a range and quality of services substantially equivalent to those offered to males.” It is hard to believe that in this, the 21st century, there needs to be a parity mandate for girls in Maryland’s Juvenile Justice System, but apparently there is such a need.

We support H.B. 394 because there is a significant disparity between the services for boys and girls. Here is short litany of some of the disparate programming.

  • Vocational programs: There are approximately 50 girls held in secure detention in three facilities — at Waxter Center, which is solely for girls, and in Noyes Center and the Lower Eastern Shore Children’s Center, which are co-ed. There are no vocational programs for girls in secure detention. Boys in secure detention at Cheltenham have vocational programs such as horticulture, print shop/silk screening and carpentry. Woodworking is available for boys at the Hickey School and at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.

For the girls who are adjudicated and committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Services, there are no vocational training programs available. Yet for boys committed to the Department of Juvenile Services, there is an apprentice program at Victor Cullen and a culinary program in a fully equipped commercial kitchen at Silver Oaks Academy, as well as graphic arts, construction, metal fabrication, computer training, barbering, horticulture and landscaping, and small business development. At the Youth Centers, committed boys can participate in carpentry, automotive technology and aquaculture.

  • Community college courses. At the Backbone Mountain Youth Center there is a 16-bed college program for boys. A van takes the boys from Backbone down the mountain for classes at Garrett Community College. There is no opportunity for girls to attend community college.
  • Sports and recreation: Girls in secure detention have no opportunity to participate in organized sports teams. Boys at Cheltenham, Hickey, Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, Carter Center and Lower Eastern Shore Community Center travel between facilities for intramural football and basketball. Three of those facilities have fully equipped gyms. Girls at Waxter Center play volleyball or basketball in the cafeteria. Boys at Cheltenham have a pool and a theater. Girls at Waxter Center have access to neither gym, nor pool, nor organized sports teams.

Allocation, not new construction

Added to those disparities is the fact that many of the facilities for boys are brand spanking new, or newly refurbished with state-of-the-art programs, and you can easily conclude that a parity mandate is necessary. Parity for parity’s sake, however, is not the reason we support House Bill 394. We support the bill because eliminating the parity gap is one step toward better outcomes for the girls that the Department of Juvenile Services serves.

To serve girls in a way that may help them change the direction of their lives requires effective gender-specific programming. H.B. 394 will not create a fully effective gender-specific program for girls, but it does open some doors to an effective program.

In 1998, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published “Guiding Principles for Promising Female Programming: An Inventory of Best Practices.” It set forth some characteristics of effective programs for girls. Here are two that can become a part of an effective program for girls, if the parity gap is reduced.

Effective programs encourage girls to explore and prepare for careers. Boys have a multitude of vocational program opportunities and even a community college opportunity. House Bill 394 can be the key that opens those programs to girls.

Effective programs provide recreational activities that give girls positive experiences. Boys can play on intramural sports teams, have access to fully equipped gymnasiums, and even a swimming pool. Girls have none of those opportunities. H.B. 394 can be the directive for sports and recreation programs for girls.

All those who testified on this bill, including the Department of Juvenile Services, supported the push for parity. The Department expressed some concern, however, that the bill might be interpreted to require the Department to expand significant resources “to build a detention facility for young women in each region, like we have for young men when we have only 38 young women [in detention] today … [or] to build a treatment center in each region for young women… .”

The testimony of the advocates at the bill hearing should quell that concern. No one called for new facilities to be built. The ACLU stated most clearly:

…we are not asking for additional spending or expensive investments in new programs. We all know that DJS has very limited resources and many demands on a strained budget. This bill states that any resources DJS has must be allocated fairly and that allocation of those scarce resources should not and cannot have a disparate impact on girls. In most instances, DJS can provide basic parity by opening up existing slots and existing services to girls. There are far fewer girls than boys in Department of Juvenile Services; we commit an average of 15 girls to the Department of Juvenile Services custody per month, compared to 100 boys. On any given day there are maybe 40 girls in detention, compared to 400 boys. It does not require a new investment of resources to treat this small group of girls fairly and equitably.

We agree. Providing girls some of the elements of an effective program and, in doing so, beginning to bring them into parity with boys, is not just the right thing to do, it actually might do some good, too. There are many good reasons to support House Bill 394. In fact, we can find no good reason for anyone to vote against it.