ACLU of Maryland Highlights Gender Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System at Hearing Today in Annapolis

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
February 17, 2011 12:00 am

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ACLU of Maryland
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ANNAPOLIS, MD – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland will testify to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 511 – Juvenile Services – Programming and Services for Females. This important legislation would clarify the state’s obligation to allocate its resources fairly to ensure that girls in the juvenile justice system receive basic opportunities.

It has been nearly forty years since Maryland committed to treating men and women equally in its Equal Right Act. HB 511 makes it clear that the juvenile justice system reflects this principle of equality, by requiring the Department of Juvenile Services to provide girls with “substantially equivalent” programs and services as those offered to boys.

“For years now, DJS has been on notice about disparities in its services for girls, but has failed to act,” said Sonia Kumar, an attorney directing the ACLU of Maryland’s Juvenile Justice Initiative. “The failure to move forward in the face of persistent inequity is why HB 511 is so important. Passing this bill would affirm Maryland’s commitment to equal treatment for girls and provide specific guidance to the new and future DJS administrations about what it means to fulfill our constitutional obligations.”

The legislation is vital to address serious disparities in services and opportunities for girls, including:

  • A lack of alternatives to detention, leaving judges faced with a girl who needs more supervision than she gets at home with no other option than to lock her up, even if she does not require that level of restriction.
  • A lack of alternatives to secure residential treatment programs, which force girls into highly-restrictive programs when they could be safely served in the community.
  • A lack of access to vocational training that is offered to boys in the juvenile justice system, and no meaningful alternative to those programs.

Because of the lack of services, girls end up in expensive and highly restrictive programs whether or not such placements are appropriate. The DJS operating budget exceeds a quarter of a billion dollars; providing fair and equitable treatment for the fewer than 200 girls in its custody does not require a large new infusion of resources. Much can be accomplished simply by opening up existing services to girls and utilizing community-based alternatives. DJS’s current plans to serve girls involve building a $13 million treatment facility and $50 million detention center 10 years from now. It does not make sense to spend $63 million and end up with no more options for girls than we have today. HB 511 is critical to ensuring that DJS allocates its resources in a more fair and effective way.

Go to ACLU of Maryland’s website to read a report, “Caged Birds Sing,” featuring the voices of girls at the troubled Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel, MD:

Full details and report online:

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