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Ahead of talks over Md. girls' detention center, a report unearths voices

Conditions at the Maryland’s only secure detention center for girls have drawn the ire of several women in the General Assembly, who are calling for changes in how the state’s juvenile justice agency serves girls.

A hearing on a bill to close the Thomas J.S. Waxter Center will be before the House Judiciary Committee next week. On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland issued a report by current and former residents of Waxter.

The report, “Caged Birds Sing: A Report by Girls on the A Unit at Waxter,” was coordinated by Sonia Kumar, an ACLU lawyer who has been working with residents of Waxter, which is in Laurel. In the report, the girls and women say the juvenile justice system isn’t meeting their needs and that the report is an opportunity for them to have their voices heard.

From the report:

“We often feel that we don’t have the chance to tell our side of the story -- it seems that no one wants to hear what we have to say about what we did or did not do wrong and why, and what we need. The reports they give to the judges make us sound terrible. We are more than just the mistakes we have made.”

On residents' paths into the juvenile justice system:

“Many kids stuck in the DJS system are in the system because of family issues. It’s not fair to lock us up because our families don’t want us! Girls shouldn’t get trapped in the DJS system because of family problems.”

On Waxter:

“The Waxter building feels like a cage -- not a place to help girls learn how to do better. The keys and locking system are too much work for the staff,” they write, referring to one of the detention center’s many antiquated features. “We think it’s dangerous. If there was an emergency, like a fire, we would be injured because the staff can’t work the keys fast enough to let us out in time.”

The report closes with a long list of recommendations and a call to action.

At the top of the list:

“DJS needs to STOP, look at the big picture. People are getting broken down, end up worse off than they were before they got here. It’s disruptive to their lives.”

-- Henri E. Cauvin

By Washington Post Editors  |  March 11, 2010; 11:36 AM ET
Categories:  Juvenile Justice , Maryland  
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