- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

Maryland’s main facility for housing delinquent girls is in such poor condition that it should be closed, the state’s juvenile justice monitors wrote in a report released Friday.

The monitors said girls at the Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel are housed in “grim, prison-like cells” and that the building is infested with mold and mildew.

“The Waxter Center is not safe or appropriate for the housing of youths,” the report by the Attorney General’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit asserted.

The recommendation to close Waxter is contained within a broader report on the physical condition of several facilities that house youths who have been convicted of crimes or are awaiting trial.

The report includes photographs of youths sleeping in hallways in long plastic containers called “boats,” broken toilets in bathrooms, mildewed showers, and rodent and insect infestation, among other problems.

“Deplorable conditions in Maryland’s juvenile facilities … result from many years of severe neglect by 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,” the monitors wrote in the report.

Tammy Brown, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Juvenile Services, disputed the monitors’ assessment that Waxter is unsafe.

“Certainly, it wouldn’t still be open if we thought it was unsafe for girls to be there,” she said.

Miss Brown said the agency is working to improve conditions at Waxter, including rebuilding the bathrooms at a cost of $600,000. She also said a recent change in leadership at the facility has improved staff morale and the attitudes of girls held there.

The report calls for replacing Waxter “at the earliest possible date,” but Marlana R. Valdez, director of the monitoring unit, said that the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George’s County also need to be closed.

Miss Valdez said she decided to focus her report on the physical condition of facilities. It says only rudimentary maintenance and cosmetic repairs appear to have been done at many juvenile facilities in some cases over decades.

The report also described poor conditions at other facilities, including Cheltenham, where it said youths are locked into cramped cells with heavy-steel, prison-style doors, and many cells house two youths, with one sleeping on a “boat.”

It concluded that the prompt repair, renovation or replacement of the state’s “old and decrepit” facilities is “an essential first step toward systemic reform.”

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