Gov. Martin O’Malley
Gov. Martin O’Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley says a new youth jail is needed in Baltimore to ensure the relative comfort of the minors who have been tried as adults currently imprisoned in the Baltimore City Detention Center, calling the BCDC “very old and decrepit.” Is that it? I thought it was the inadequate size of the building, or the frequent assaults.

Anyway, O’Malley continues to affirm that the proposed youth jail is on an irreversible march towards existence. And it may sound like we desperately need one. The lack of attention received by youth in the BCDC — the Sun reported an incident in which a teenage inmate who lost a tooth had to treat his own injury — is appalling and makes the construction of a dedicated youth jail sound like the only humane thing to do. But, according to a May 2011 report by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, it’s not.

In January, the Maryland group Advocates for Children & Youth cited the NCCD report in a letter opposing construction of the jail. The letter stated that the NCCD report “found that NO JAIL would be needed if the State adopted practical and affordable new policies and practices, such as ending the automatic prosecution of youth as adults or detaining youth pre-trial in juvenile justice facilities.” ACY also asserted that states that have already adopted these practices “are seeing no increase in crime and delinquency.”

According to ACY, not only would policy changes preclude the need for a new jail, they would reduce crime, too. The letter cites several studies that have determined that “youth who are prosecuted as adults are more likely to commit crimes than their counterparts who are retained in the juvenile justice system.”

So, if the NCCD’s determinations are credible — and why wouldn’t they be? — why does O’Malley continue to push for this unpopular and costly project for Baltimore just as we’re losing rec centers and fire companies?

It’s ironic that our governor is so committed to being “tough on crime” that he won’t consider policy changes that might have a chance of actually reducing it.