With frequent references to "juvenile predators," "hardened criminals," and "young thugs," U.S. lawmakers at both the state and federal levels have increasingly abandoned efforts to rehabilitate child offenders through the juvenile court system. Instead, many states have responded to a perceived outbreak in juvenile violent crime by moving more children into the adult criminal system. Between 1992 and 1998, at least forty U.S. states adopted legislation making it easier for children to be tried as adults; a similar measure for youth charged with federal crimes is pending in the U.S. Congress. These measures neither reduce crime nor lead to rehabilitation. But they often do lead to serious abuses when children are held in adult jails, sometimes in appalling conditions of confinement, occasionally sharing cells with adult detainees, and frequently provided inadequate education, medical and mental health care, or age-appropriate recreational opportunities.
Joey N., seventeen, had spent over six months in the Baltimore City Detention Center when he was interviewed by Human Rights Watch in March 1999. "This jail's crazy," he told us. During his first three months in the detention center, when he was in the juvenile general population section, he regularly saw juvenile detainees carrying weapons. "The whole section has knives," he told us. "People got to keep them for a reason, because they fear for their life." On several occasions, all of the youth in the section were restricted to their cells for extended periods of time after fights broke out between several youth. During one such period, he reported, "C.O.'s [correction officers] came, took everything we had. Sheets, everything. They left us in the cells for two days with no clothing except for our boxers. All the windows were open. I got sick real bad. This was when it was snowing, and we didn't have no heat. We didn't have no t-shirts or blankets or nothing. It was freezing cold."
When Joey N. was placed in disciplinary segregation in January 1999, the adult detainees in the section continually harassed him by throwing excrement and urine into his cell. "I complained to the C.O.'s, but they didn't do nothing," he said. In desperation, he resorted to telling the guards that he was suicidal, and he was moved to the psychiatric wing for several days. On his return to the segregation section, he asked the guards to place him in one of the section's isolation cells. Heavy metal sheets completely cover the bars, preventing other detainees in the section from throwing feces into the cell but also blocking all natural light. Joey N. told us, "I asked to go in this cell, they call it the dungeon. Dungeon's the one got a steel door. Ain't nothing in it, just a toilet and a bed. I'm the only person in there. I stay there twenty-four hours a day, only come outTuesday and Friday for a five-minute shower, then get locked back in." (In this report, all names of youth have been changed to protect their privacy.)
The national movement to charge more youth in the adult criminal system is premised on the inaccurate assumptions that juvenile crime is on the rise and that trying children as adults will reduce crime. In fact, juvenile crime has declined steadily even as the proponents of harsh juvenile sentencing have predicted an onslaught of adolescent offenders. In addition, studies in at least five states have concluded that laws that make it easier to transfer children to adult courts do not measurably reduce violent crime.
Minority children-African-American youth in particular-are disproportionately sent to criminal court under these policies. In Maryland, cases involving black youth represent seven out of every ten cases in which the juvenile judge orders a transfer to criminal court, even though less than one-third of the state's population is African-American.
Lost in the zeal to get tough on adolescent offenders is the fact that they are still children. Once placed in the adult system, youth often lose the opportunity to participate in specialized programs designed to rehabilitate them. They may be placed in pretrial detention with adults, and if convicted they are held, for the most part, in adult correctional institutions. As one Maryland youth observed, "Being here with adults, that ain't going to rehabilitate me, it just teaching me to be a better criminal."
Once charged in the adult criminal system, many children are locked up in local jails, often for six months or more, while their cases are tried. In Maryland, between 200 and 300 children are in adult detention facilities on any given day. Imposing facilities designed to hold adults, jails often lack the infrastructure, the programs, and the staff to handle juveniles. "We're not trained to be babysitters," commented Barry Stanton, the director of the Prince George's County Correctional Center, in an interview with Human Rights Watch in July 1998. "Don't ask me to be a mental health expert, a teacher, a disciplinarian for juveniles. It's not my job."
Some 150 children, between one-half and two-thirds of all youth held in Maryland's jails, are in the Baltimore City Detention Center, a decaying facility nearly two hundred years old, where they endure appalling conditions of confinement. Children in Baltimore's jail spend their days in grim cells lacking direct natural lighting and crawling with cockroaches, rodents, and other vermin. Ineffective heating and poor ventilation offer little relief from the heat of the summer months and the chill of the winter.
In all jails, children face greater risks to their safety and well-being than do youth held in juvenile facilities. They are at risk of harm from other juveniles: lacking the space to classifly children who are admitted, many jails cannot separatepotentially dangerous youth from those who are vulnerable. But incidents of violence regularly occur even when jails have made efforts at classification. In Montgomery County's Youthful Offender Unit, for example, a seventeen-year-old detainee told Human Rights Watch in July 1998 that fighting "happens every night. You can hear it, the sound of fists hitting raw skin."
Violence is particularly severe in the Baltimore City Detention Center, where the crumbling infrastructure gives inmates many opportunities to fashion handmade weapons, known as "shanks." In order to restrict the flow of weapons onto the juvenile section of the jail, guards thoroughly search children on their way to and from classes, usually subjecting them to a strip search as they return to the section.
Some of the Baltimore City Detention Center's guards permit fights between youth, a practice known as the "square dance." Children in the city's detention center report that some guards will ask if there are any youth who want to settle scores. If there are, guards will lock the remainder of the children in their cells; the fight takes place in an eight-foot-by-eight-foot square area on one of the tiers. "It ends up with busted heads, slashes over your eyes, broken fingers, cut lips, maybe a broken nose," a former juvenile detainee told Human Rights Watch in March 1999. "But you don't go to the hospital for the cuts. If you did, there'd have to be a report, and the guards would have to explain why two guys were out in the square while everybody else was locked in," he added.
Children also face risks from adult inmates, with whom they may have daily contact and may even share cells. Commingling is the norm in many of Maryland's smaller jails, including the detention centers in Frederick and Washington Counties. Even in the larger jails, which generally have separate juvenile housing sections, children regularly come into contact with adults when they take meals, use the gym, visit the doctor, or go to court. Moreover, the larger jails routinely house children with adults when they are placed in administrative segregation or other special housing.
Disciplinary practices in the Baltimore City Detention Center raise serious concerns of arbitrary and excessive punishment. We found that many children in Baltimore are given lengthy terms of confinement to cells in the disciplinary segregation section, often with loss of visits and other privileges, sometimes for relatively minor offenses. In serious cases, disciplinary hearing officers routinely order juveniles segregated for ninety days per charge, the maximum sanction possible. In some cases, the hearing officers direct juveniles to serve consecutive sanctions on multiple charges, resulting in periods of segregration of 180 days or more.
We also found that officials in the Baltimore City Detention Center frequently place the general population on extended cell confinement, called "lockdown," inresponse to escape attempts or fights. Children on lockdown may receive up to two or three showers each week and are usually permitted to attend classes; otherwise, they remain inside their cells and are not allowed visits from family members. Such measures often last for weeks after the incident that gave rise to them and continue long after the offenders are identified and disciplined. When lockdowns remain in effect beyond their immediate security purpose, they constitute collective punishments, a practice prohibited by international standards.
Further, Baltimore detention center officials enjoy broad latitude to place juveniles on administrative segregation the entire time they are in the jail. The decision to place a detainee in administrative segregation, which Baltimore officials call "supermax," is completely discretionary, based solely on the warden's review of the youth's record; detainees have no right to a hearing and no right to seek review of the warden's determination.
In general, children reported few problems with guards. Where we did hear of abuses by guards, the accounts suggested a common pattern of guards overreacting-sometimes violently-to teenage backtalk. These cases demonstrate that specialized training in adolescent developmental issues is critical for jail staff who work regularly with youth.
The education provided to children was seriously deficient. The most extreme case was the Prince George's County Correctional Center, which provided no schooling whatsoever to boys in detention, some thirty at the time of our July 1998 visit. In the other jails, we found that the number of hours of classroom instruction frequently fell far short of the requirements of federal and state law.
We were also disturbed to find serious deficiencies in the mental health program in the Baltimore City Detention Center, the only mental health program we were able to analyze in depth. Mental health services in Baltimore's jail are minimal to nonexistent, with no services specifically for juveniles. There are no therapeutic groups, no individual counseling, and no efforts at aftercare planning. In practice, the only inmates who are able to receive mental health services are those in crisis, who are housed in deplorable conditions. Touring the mental health unit, we saw inmates who were naked, with nothing more than paper blankets to cover their bodies; no medical necessity justified this dehumanizing practice.
The lack of appropriate mental health care is especially troubling because children in detention are more likely than youth as a whole to have mental health needs, and the conditions in which they are confined may well exacerbate their preexisting mental disabilities. Even for those youth who do not come to jail with prior mental health needs, being jailed takes an emotional toll. Indeed, research suggests that children in jails may be eight times more likely to commit suicide than their peers held in juvenile detention centers.
While every jail we visited offered basic medical services to detainees and examined them upon their arrival, we heard frequent complaints that sick children had to wait for several days or weeks before they were seen by medical staff. Some youth told us that their requests for assistance were ignored altogether. Our investigation left us with questions about the adequacy of basic medical care for female detainees in particular. We learned, for example, that the Washington County Detention Center did not routinely offer girls and women gynecological examinations, contrary to the recommendation of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. In addition, we were troubled to find that not all jails separated men and women who were in need of observation for medical or mental health reasons.
Girls in adult detention facilities suffer particular hardships. Because of the small numbers of girls in detention, girls who are held separately from adults may spend hours of their day in virtual isolation.
Other aspects of jail life reinforced the conclusion that while some children, particularly those accused of committing violent offenses, may need to be detained in juvenile institutions pending trial, they do not belong in jail with adult inmates. The detention centers we visited may not offer youth enough exercise opportunity to meet their developmental needs. They offer few other activities for juveniles, placing children held in jails at a disadvantage to their peers in the juvenile detention system. Children placed on disciplinary segregation are frequently denied visits and phone calls for as long as ninety days or more, depriving them of contact with the wider community that can be crucial to their well-being. Finally, children in all jails complained that they did not get enough to eat. When we spoke with jail officials about the meal portions served to juveniles, it appeared that they had not taken the dietary needs of adolescents into account in providing meals.
Maryland's jails are inappropriate places for youth, even for those who are accused of committing very serious crimes. This conclusion is particularly compelling with regard to the Baltimore City Detention Center, where children endure dimly lit, dreary cells infested with vermin and face daily risks to their personal safety. Whether or not they are detained in conditions as squalid as those in the Baltimore, youth held in Maryland's adult detention centers receive insufficient opportunities for education and recreation and face protracted periods of idleness. They may not be afforded age-appropriate medical and mental health services, and it appeared that all jails failed to provide youth with enough food to meet their developmental needs.
This report is one of a series of reports published by Human Rights Watch on the conditions of confinement for children. In the United States, we have investigated and reported on juvenile detention facilities in Colorado, Georgia, and Louisiana, and we have published two reports on detention conditions for unaccompanied minors in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Elsewhere in the world, we have documented detention conditions of children in Bulgaria, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Kenya, and Pakistan.
Prisons, jails, police lockups, and other places of detention pose special research problems because of their closed nature and because their inmates, especially those who are minors, are vulnerable to intimidation and retaliation. In the interests of accuracy and objectivity, Human Rights Watch bases its reporting on first-hand observation of detention conditions and direct interviews with prisoners and corrections officials, although we have devised an alternative research methodology for use when authorities bar access to outside monitoring. Human Rights Watch follows a set of self-imposed rules in conducting investigations: our investigators undertake visits only when we, not the authorities, can choose the institutions to be visited; when we can be confident that we will be allowed to talk privately with the detainees of their choice; and when we can gain access to the entire facility to be examined. These rules ensure that investigators are not shown "model" detention centers, "model" inmates, or the most presentable parts of the facilities under investigation. In the rare cases in which entry on these terms is denied, Human Rights Watch may conduct its investigations on the basis of interviews with former inmates, relatives of inmates, lawyers, prison experts, and detention center staff, as well as documentary evidence.
As we do when working with other vulnerable groups, we take particular care to ensure that interviews of children are confidential, conducted with sensitivity, and free from any actual or apparent outside influence. We do not print the names or other identifying information of the children in detention whom we interview. In this report, all children are given aliases to protect their privacy.
In this report as well as in all of our previous reports, we assess the treatment of children in the justice system according to the guidelines set forth in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice.
Access to Detention Centers
In the United States, Human Rights Watch researchers have generally been afforded access to the facilities we seek to investigate. Human Rights Watch received full access to seven state-operated juvenile institutions and one private contract facility in Colorado in 1996 and 1997 and was also accorded access to the four secure juvenile correctional facilities in Louisiana in 1995. In 1996 the Immigration and Naturalization Service granted our request for access to detention centers maintained in Los Angeles county and Arizona, and in 1998 the agency granted a similar request for access to a Pennsylvania county facility with which it contracts to house undocumented minors. We have also been able to conduct interviews and on-site investigations at adult prisons and jails in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. In a significant exception to these commendably open practices, Georgia's Department of Children and Youth Services refused to permit Human Rights Watch to visit juvenile facilities or to conduct interviews with children in those facilities when we sought access in February 1996.
We requested access to seven pretrial detention facilities in Maryland: two in the Baltimore area, two in the Washington, D.C., area, two in western Maryland, and one on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Two jails-the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson and the Wicomico County Detention Center, on the Eastern Shore-flatly refused to permit Human Rights Watch researchers to visit. The detention centers in Frederick County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, and Washington County responded immediately to our requests for access, according us unrestricted access and permitting our researchers to conduct confidential interviews of children in detention. We received the full cooperation of jail officials at each of these facilities, and we found the staff at all facilities to be accessible, open, and helpful.
The Baltimore City Detention Center eventually granted us unconditional access to the facility and the juvenile inmates, but only after some ten months of negotiation. Detention center officials permitted us to visit the Baltimore City Detention Center in September 1998, three months after our initial request, but denied us access to all juvenile housing sections and refused to permit us to speak to youth in detention. After several additional months of negotiation and a meeting with Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Stuart O. Simms, we reached an agreement that permitted us to visit the detention center under the terms we had originally proposed. When we visited the facility in May 1999, the commissioner and his staff gave us unrestricted access to every part of the jail we asked to see, allowed us to examine disciplinary reports and other records, and permitted us to speak privately with youth. The sole condition of our interviewswas that representatives of Maryland's Office of the Public Defender (OPD) would be available at the detention center to answer any questions youth might have on their particular cases. The OPD representatives introduced themselves to each juvenile we had selected to interview but did not sit in on our interviews.
In total, we were able to interview some sixty children-ten in Prince George's County, seven in Montgomery County, four in Washington County, and the remainder in Baltimore. We conducted all interviews of children in private, out of sight and earshot of corrections officers and other jail officials. In addition to interviews with children and site visits, we inspected jail disciplinary reports, court records, and other records obtained through requests under Maryland's Public Information Act. We also spoke with local judges, children's rights advocates, defense attorneys, academics, and government officials.
To the Maryland General Assembly
* Strictly limit the practice of trying children in the criminal courts. There should be a presumption in favor of adjudicating children's cases in the juvenile justice system. The transfer of children's cases to the criminal court should be limited to extraordinarily severe cases.
* Repeal or modify existing transfer provisions that automatically require all children charged with certain offenses to be tried as adults. The decision to transfer a case to the criminal courts should be subject to judicial discretion; transfers should not be mandatory and should not be left to the discretion of the prosecutor.
* Take immediate steps to end the practice of placing children under the age of eighteen in adult detention facilities. Maryland's jails subject youth to the risk of violence and potentially abusive disciplinary practices, problems which are compounded by systemic deficiencies in staff training, insufficient opportunities for education and recreation, a lack of appropriate medical and mental health care, and a failure even to provide youth with enough to eat. In view of these abusive conditions, the time and expense that would be required to correct these violations individually, and the small numbers of youth held in Maryland's adult detention system, Human Rights Watch believes that the most expedient and safest course of action is to end the practice of detaining juveniles in adult jails.
* Until the practice of placing children in adult detention facilities is ended, correct the confinement of disproportionate numbers of minority children in adult jails.
To the Maryland Courts
* Order pretrial detention of juveniles only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
* Ensure the shortest possible period of pretrial detention by expediting cases in which the juvenile defendant is detained.
To the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and to county jail administrations
Separation from Adult Inmates
* Children must be separated from adult inmates at all times.
Conditions of Confinement
* Ensure that the conditions of confinement for children meet all of the requirements of health, safety, and human dignity.
* Provide all children with food that is sufficient to meet their developmental needs.
* Both inside and outside their cells, permit children to wear ordinary clothing rather than stigmatizing, institutionalizing, and uncomfortable uniforms.
* Provide children with adequate mattresses and clean bedding, which should be changed often enough to ensure cleanliness and should be appropriate for the season.
* Allow children to shower every day.
* Prohibit the use of isolation as a disciplinary measure.
* Administrative segregation and protective custody should be used only where absolutely necessary for the protection of a child. Where such placement is necessary, it should be employed for the shortest possible period of time. A decision to place a child in administrative segregation should be promptly and systematically reviewed.
* Children in segregation should never be denied access to reading matter.
* Visits by parents, guardians, or other responsible adults should not be suspended for those children placed in segregation.
* Provide clear guidelines for hearing officers and detention center staff who impose discipline.
* Upon entry, all youth should receive a handbook that clearly specifies what behaviors are prohibited and what sanctions they may receive for each behavior.
* All youth should receive written and verbal explanations of the disciplinary process, including an explanation of their right to seek review of disciplinary actions.
* Provide all staff with specialized training for dealing with children and adolescents. All staff should be trained in and continually reminded of the importance of proper, respectful treatment of juveniles and other inmates. Abusive conduct by staff, including derogatory remarks, should not be tolerated.
* Ensure that jail staff protect children from assaults by other children. When such an assault occurs, staff should take appropriate measures to protect the child.
* In accordance with state law and binding international obligations, ensure that every child below the age of sixteen receives an education suited to his or her needs and abilities and designed to prepare him or her for return to society.
* Ensure that all detainees sixteen years of age and older have the opportunity to continue their education if they wish to do so.
* In accordance with state and federal law, provide special education for all inmates who qualify to receive it.
Girls Detained in Adult Jails
* Girls in detention should receive care, protection, assistance, treatment, and training that is consistent with international standards. They should never receive less care, protection, assistance, treatment, or training than that given to boys in detention.
To the Maryland Commission on Correctional Standards, the American Correctional Association, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care
* Review existing standards applicable to adult jails to ensure that they reflect the needs of youth who may be detained in facilities designed primarily for adults.
To the United States Congress
* Withdraw the restrictive reservations, declarations, and understandings that the United States has attached to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
* Introduce implementing legislation for the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
* Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
* Amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to require states to report annually on the number of detained or incarcerated children with disabilities, by race, ethnicity, and disability category, who are receiving a free appropriate public education.
To the United States Department of Justice
* The Special Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division should investigate the conditions of confinement of children detained in Maryland's jails.