By HOLLY NUNN
ANNAPOLIS (April 5, 2011) In an attempt to fix the state's most troubled agency without spending more money, lawmakers are asking the Department of Juvenile Services for reports rather than policy changes.
A bill that would have mandated substantially equivalent services for girls has been amended to ask for a report from the department by December outlining how the range and quality of services for boys can be extended to include girls.
In addition to asking the department to report on services for girls, other legislation is pending that would require juvenile services to explain what is necessary for the agency to stay within its budget and to report more specific numbers about juveniles who are released and re-arrested.
Sen. Jamie Raskin presented the bill requiring a report on equal services for girls to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, where it is expected to be approved and sent to the House floor.
"Sometimes legislation moves in baby steps," said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, vice-chair of the committee and the lead sponsor of the original bill, which analysts estimated would have cost more than $2 million.
Advocates of equal services for girls will likely reintroduce the bill next year using the information from the report. Sam Abed, the new secretary of the department, and Gov. Martin O'Malley, have expressed support for equal services with or without legislation.
Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a vocal critic of juvenile justice in Maryland, requires the department to report recidivism rates to the General Assembly by region and by individual detention or treatment facility. The department currently releases to the public rates by which juveniles reoffend by type of treatment undergone, but not by facility.
Without information about individual programs, Zirkin said, the department would continue to "place kids into environments where we have no knowledge of success rates. If you're going to send a kid to ABC detention center, or ABC group home, I want to know how they're doing."
Overall, three out of four juveniles are arrested within three years of being released from a Department of Juvenile Services program, and almost half are re-adjudicated or reconvicted.
Tuesday's hearing is one of the last steps for the recidivism bill. Having passed the Senate without opposition, it is expected to pass in the House.
Lawmakers may also require the department to submit a plan for how to fully fund the historically-underfunded agency.
Budget analysts say that the 2012 budget underfunds juvenile services by $7.2 million because it does not account for frequent use of overtime to maintain required staff-to-juvenile ratios.
These reports would be required in addition to the annual state comprehensive three-year plan.
The reporting requirements are indicative of the budget climate. New initiatives and reforms require funding, and funding is hard to come by this session.
But Zirkin said that after years of attempting to fix the department through legislation, reporting is all that's left for the General Assembly to require of the department.
"Over the last 10 years we've passed countless bills to provide a roadmap for juvenile services, a litany of juvenile justice legislation that is now law," said Zirkin. "They just need to follow what we've done."
"What else are you going to do? Pass a law that says you really, really, really mean it?"