By MAGGIE CLARK
ANNAPOLIS (March 24, 2011) Girls in the Maryland juvenile justice system will likely have to wait at least another year to receive the same opportunities as boys after a Senate committee Thursday took the teeth out of a bill mandating "substantially equivalent" services.
The Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee voted to require the Department of Juvenile Services to create a report on providing equal services to girls in the juvenile justice system, rather than implement those services this year.
The amendment, proposed by the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, took out the language requiring the department to "provide females with a range and quality of services and programs substantially equivalent to those offered to males." Instead, the bill now simply requires a report on which services are best for girls and how much they will cost.
The report is due Dec. 1, which DJS hopes will be in time to get the estimates into the governor's next budget proposal.
Currently, DJS provides boys with many more treatment options than girls, including trade education, athletic opportunities and community-based treatment. Studies have shown that monitoring youth close to home, as in group homes or through after-school reporting programs, leads to better outcomes for juveniles in the justice system than detaining them in facilities far from home. Services within the community allow youth to continue going to school and spending time with family.
Fiscal analysts estimated that the original girls' parity bill would cost more than $2 million to implement, which both DJS and lawmakers said was a prohibitively high amount for the state in the current fiscal climate. That, combined with a new DJS secretary, Sam Abed, who wants to look at ways to improve treatment for girls within the existing budget, made advocates decide to wait on requiring equal services for girls for another year.
"The bill came in with a large fiscal note," Raskin said. "We have the enthusiastic participation of the new secretary (on equal services for girls) and we agreed he would report to us on the progress being made on equalizing the services available. Without mandating (the services), we have won an administrative commitment ... I think we're going to see meaningful progress over the next year."
Changing the mandate to a reporting requirement gives DJS more time to look at how best to implement more services for girls. "When we're looking at doing any new programming, it takes a little time, do some research. That's going to occur whether the bill is passed or not. Secretary Abed is committed to finding ways to address (girl's services) more quickly. We're focused on day and evening reporting centers, which we think we can accomplish within our current budget," said Jay Cleary, director of communications for DJS.
The amendment was greeted with sharp criticism from some committee members.
"It is unfortunate that here we are in 2011 and we're talking about females that are (in detention) that don't have the same rights as men. It's so discriminatory," said Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George's.
The sister bill in the House of Delegates will be voted on in the House Judiciary Committee as early as Friday.
Parity legislation was proposed in 2010 by Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, but never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee. Critics of the bill said that there were too few girls within the system to justify equal services.
Nearly one in five of the more than 17,000 youth in the juvenile justice system are girls.
Holly Nunn of the Capital News Service contributed to this report.