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Hearing To Close Down Detention Center For Girls In Maryland

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Advocates propose closing down Waxter Center in Laurel, Maryland.
Kavitha Cardoza
Advocates propose closing down Waxter Center in Laurel, Maryland.

By Kavitha Cardoza

Lawmakers in Maryland will consider a proposal Thursday to close down the only secure detention center exclusively for girls in the state. Some advocates say issues at the facility are symptomatic of a larger problem, the unequal treatment of boys and girls in the juvenile justice system.

Sonia Kumar is with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and meets regularly with some of the approximately 35 girls at the Waxter Center in Laurel. Kumar says independent state monitors have documented concerns about the safety of the facility and staffing shortages.

But there's also a lack of programing. For example, Kumar says there are several options for boys in Maryland including wilderness programs and after school supervised youth centers.

"At the youth centers, boys have access to an Olympic size swimming pool. The girls at Waxter for gym will sometimes walk around the cafeteria. That's the level of disparities we're talking about," says Kumar.

Kumar says the point of the juvenile system is rehabilitation, but that isn't happening for the girls at Waxter.

"They come out either the same or worse off then they were before because you've compounded those problems by disrupting any sort of positive relationships with their families or in the community," she says.

The head of the Waxter center did not return calls for comment.

Delegate Kathleen Dumais of Montgomery County has introduced a bill to close the facility. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the proposal today.

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