Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Legislators Still Grappling with Juvenile Justice Equality Bill

Southern Maryland Online, By Capital News Service’s Holly Nunn, Thursday, March 3, 2011

ANNAPOLIS – The Department of Juvenile Services and legislators are trying to wiggle their way out of a $2 million price tag on a bill mandating equal services for girls.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin and Delegate Kathleen Dumais, Democrats from Montgomery, requires that the department “provide females a range and quality of services substantially equivalent to those offered to males.” A fiscal analysis of the bill estimated the cost at $2 million for new programs and facilities.

But supporters say the department can do it within the current budget.

Advocates for the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth and the attorney general’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, argue that the department can extend programs using existing resources and a little creativity.

“To do what we need to do does not require a new building,” Dumais said.

The department has vocational, recreational and educational programs for some boys in detention, like traveling basketball teams, wood shop, swimming pools and wilderness adventure programs. For boys in Baltimore, there is an evening reporting center, where kids receive help with homework, mentoring and a place to be during peak trouble-making hours.

No such programs exist for girls. According to advocates, this is a violation of the state’s equal rights amendment.

A night in an evening reporting center costs the state $50 for each child, while a day in detention at the only state-run, all-girls facility, Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center, costs the state $572.

Supporters of the bill understand that in a tough fiscal year, the bill can’t pass with a $2 million price tag. Advocates are working closely with the department and bill sponsors to draft an amendment that will make clear the department’s requirement to use existing resources.

One suggested amendment would list the services that need to be opened up to girls, like the vocational training and evening reporting classes. Sonia Kumar of the Maryland ACLU worries that a list could leave out some needs.

“Enumerating the services implies that other services need not be substantially equivalent,” said Kumar. “We are trying to provide the department with maximum flexibility to meet the requirements of the law.”

The legislative wrangling comes as the department gets new leadership in acting secretary Sam Abed, after the November resignation of Donald DeVore.

Many advocates, in both the lobby and the legislature, say they are encouraged by Abed’s willingness to work with them on necessary reforms in the troubled department.

O’Malley appointed Abed, who spent five years in Virginia’s juvenile justice agency, less than a month ago. He has not been confirmed.

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