By Roy John Williams, CFCC Student Fellow (2016-2017)
The CFCC Student Fellows recently toured the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center (BCJJC). I was impressed by the aesthetic qualities of this massive but modern building. BCJJC is a beautiful facility with towering windows at the entrance that create a welcoming feeling.
BCJJC is a one-stop shop that serves the legal and non-legal needs of Baltimore City youth involved with the juvenile justice system. On the legal end, the 244,000 square foot facility includes a detention center that can house up to 144 boys, three courtrooms, hearing rooms for juvenile court magistrates, a police booking facility, probation officers, as well as offices for the Department of Social Services, the Department of Juvenile Services, the Office of the Public Defender, and the State’s Attorney’s Office. All of the legal needs for these children are available at this facility.
The non-legal features of the facility are equally impressive. In the detention center, there are classrooms, a gym, a cafeteria, and housing for the youth. Moreover, youth can engage in leisure activities, such as recording their own music. Family visitation areas are provided, and some youth may receive passes to go home on weekends. These features focus more on rehabilitating youth rather than pushing them into the adult criminal justice system.
For detained youth, BCJJC also offers programming that teaches them life and job skills. Such programs are examples of preventive practices that help youth turn their lives around. When youth who are awaiting adjudication for alleged offenses are taught rehabilitative life and job skills, preventive practices are being utilized to the fullest. Life and job skills courses, along with other classroom experiences, can help these youth avoid contact with the adult criminal justice system. Additionally, teaching life skills embodies therapeutic jurisprudence by promoting the child’s emotional and physical well-being.
Also of relevance, BCJJC programs embrace theories of therapeutic jurisprudence. Therapeutic jurisprudence takes a holistic approach to cases and looks at the program’s impact on the individual’s emotional and physical well-being. For example, it is common for children to have anger management issues. BCJJC provides classes to address these behaviors, including music and physical education as ways to redirect possible aggression. This focus on rehabilitation is why I feel the facility is so successful.
Finally, BCJJC’s administrative practices are also cutting edge. The juvenile courts at BCJJC are part of Maryland’s Family Divisions. Promoting rehabilitation helps resolve the child’s legal dispute and, at the same time, provides support that enables the youth to become a contributing member of society. BCJJC provides a unified and integrated system where prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, and social workers can easily track the path of a case and collaborate to improve outcomes for youth. This enables the youth to focus on recovery.
I believe Baltimore City has really hit a home run with this facility. The center promotes all of the cutting edge techniques in family law and criminal law that help an individual become a contributing member of society. Other cities should use this facility as a best practices model for juvenile justice reform.
 See Barbara A. Babb, Unified Family Courts: An Interdisciplinary Framework and Problem-Solving Approach, Problem Solving Courts: Social Science and Legal Perspectives, Editors: Richard L. Wiener, Eve M. Brank (2013); see also Andrew Siske, From Therapeutic Jurisprudence to Roper: When Social Science Serves as Authority in Law, Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children, and the Courts, Oct. 28, 2016, available at https://ubaltlawcfcc.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/from-therapeutic-jurisprudence-to-roper-when-social-science-serves-as-authority-in-law/ .