BALTIMORE — Construction of a juvenile detention center in East Baltimore could be delayed by a year after state prison officials announced they would reduce the size of the proposed $70 million facility.
Officials made the decision after the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that conducts research on juvenile justice, released a study contending the state will only need 117 juvenile beds over the next 30 years under current sentencing policies. The proposed facility would have had 230 beds.
The study found that the state would need even fewer beds if sentencing practices were changed to, among other alternatives, house juvenile offenders in juvenile detention centers while they await trial.
The report — paid for by the state, the Open Society Institute-Baltimore and the Annie E. Casey Foundation – is being studied by corrections officials. It is likely a committee composed of corrections officials, judges, prosecutors and youth advocates will be formed to determine the size of the smaller facility, which will either be adapted to accommodate the smaller number of beds or completely redesigned.
A redesign could delay the bidding process by over a year before construction begins.
About $14 million was already spent on planning, design, demolition and site preparation. The most recent construction bid was $69 million. Earlier cost estimates were $100 million.
Opponents of the detention project asked Gov. Martin O’Malley to stop the project last year and to spend the funds on recreation centers and school construction. State officials said at the time that the center could be reduced in size but not scrapped entirely.
Currently, juvenile offenders who face adult charges in the city are incarcerated at the Baltimore City Detention Center, which had been criticized by federal officials because it fails to completely separate youth and adult offenders.
The study found that Baltimore would need fewer youth beds over the next three decades in part because of its declining youth population, citing census data showing a decline of 17 percent in Baltimore’s youth population since 2000.
Serious violent and property crime has also dropped considerably since 2000 and the number of teenagers arrested in 2003 declined by half by 2010. The trends are apparent elsewhere in the state and country, according to the report.