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Juvenile detention center is slated to open Tuesday

August 30, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Don't be fooled by the locked steel doors or barbed wire around the perimeter of the new Western Maryland Children's Center - it is not a place that stresses punishment.

However, the center is no country club for juvenile offenders, said a state juvenile services spokesman.

Lee Towers, director of the Department of Juvenile Justice Office of Communications, said the children's center, opening after several construction delays, will be ready to accept juveniles Tuesday.

The center, on Roxbury Road south of Hagerstown, will serve youth from Washington, Frederick, Garrett and Allegany counties. It can hold up to 24 youths awaiting adjudication in the Western Maryland juvenile court system or awaiting placement at another center, Towers said.

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Towers said the facility will house juveniles for less than one month in most cases.

"This is like a Motel 6 - it's not Disney," Towers said.

The 30,000-square-foot center, which cost about $7.5 million, is complete with sleeping quarters, a small library, indoor and outdoor baskeball/recreation courts, counseling areas, sick beds, training/visitation areas, a nurses station and a center control to monitor all movement in the building. The center will also employ four nurses, three teachers and two teacher's aides.

Towers said the Roxbury Road location will be helpful for troubled youths because their families will not have to travel to Montgomery County, where the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center is located, to visit them.

"The facility was built to keep them close to home," Towers said. "That keeps the family engaged and helps us better address why they're here in the first place."

Towers said the center is more of a therapeutic and education-based detention center than a punitive one.

In fact, the facility resembles a high school in many ways. Youth supervisors Danny Brant and Jose Taylor said the juveniles go to classes for six hours a day and also have recreation time, to resemble high school physical education, factored in.

"I would imagine it puts the kids a little at ease," Brant said.

Melanie Graves, the center's education supervisor, said students are taught English and math as well as skills including cooking, finding employment and managing money during the center's 30-day curriculum.

The difference is, these teens can not come and go at their leisure, Towers said.

"It's very structured here. This isn't their bedroom door at home," Towers said while pounding on the locked, steel door.

Among other restrictions, juveniles at the center are permitted to watch only about one hour of television a day and it must have some news or educational value, the youth supervisors said.

Taylor said behavior of juveniles at center also dictates whether they can take part in "therapeutic activities" such as playing basketball.

"Everything is earned here," Taylor said.

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