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Girls get new option in juvenile system

ANNAPOLIS — For the first time, Baltimore girls going through the juvenile justice system now have an alternative to detention while waiting to be adjudicated — an alternative that’s been available to boys for years.

Instead of being locked up in a state-run facility, girls can be ordered to attend a youth monitoring program that allows them to live at home and attend a reporting center.

The Pre-Adjudicated Coordination and Training (PACT) Evening Reporting Center started accepting girls ages 14-18 last month. The center does not accept girls who have been charged with gun-related crimes or have child-abuse violations on their record.

Advocates have been vocal about the need for community care options for girls and have called for equality between male and female services in the system.

“We have a long history in our system of marginalizing girls and glossing over serving them because they’re a numerical minority,” said Sonia Kumar, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland who has worked with girls in the system.

According to a report on female offenders issued by the state’s Department of Juvenile Services in May, 858 females and 6,056 males entered secure detention during fiscal year 2010.

The PACT Reporting Center is part of a youth opportunity program run by the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. Ernest Dorsey, assistant director of youth services for that office, said opening the center to girls was always the plan.

The center opened as a pilot program for boys six years ago because data showed that males had the greatest need in the system.

However, when the number of girls in the juvenile justice system started to rise, officials from the Department of Juvenile Services approached the reporting center about opening up to females. The center can now serve up to five girls and 15 boys at a time.

Dorsey hopes the resources at the center will help kids stay out of the juvenile justice system and stay connected to the community.

“Having an adult that cares about that young person and helps that young person navigate whatever system they are going through keeps young people engaged,” Dorsey said.

Advocates are pleased with the progress for girls in the system, but still believe there is much to be accomplished.

“It’s significant in terms of moving toward a more equitable system. Does it address even a fraction of other issues faced by girls in the system? No. But we’re no longer denying girls access to a service because of their gender,” Kumar said.

The Department of Juvenile Services plans to keep expanding options for girls, said its spokesman, Jay Cleary. The department is working toward opening reporting centers in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties that will serve girls. Both reporting centers should be open to girls by January.

In October, the Department of Juvenile Services announced that a boys detention center, the J. DeWeese Carter Youth Facility, would be converted into a female facility for girls who have already been adjudicated and are receiving treatment.

Girls will be moved to Carter from Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center, Maryland’s only state-run, all-female facility. Waxter has been criticized in the past for breaking state law by commingling committed girls with those waiting for placement or adjudication.

The facility has also been criticized for having unsafe and unfit living conditions. Moving committed girls to Carter would address the commingling problem.

Cleary said in October that the goal was to move some of the girls from Waxter to Carter by November. As of Nov. 10, no girls had been moved to Carter.

PACT was created in partnership with agencies including the Department of Juvenile Services, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention and the Family League of Baltimore City.

While at the center, youths can participate in constructive activities such as exercise and fitness, career development and life skills development. Since girls have been added to the center, a performance art component has been added. Boys and girls rotate separately through the stations.