The Maryland Public Defender — the office responsible for representing most indigent people accused of crimes in the state — has made a serious accusation that conditions for juveniles confined in the Frederick County jail are unconstitutional.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has called the accusation unfounded and untrue. He categorically denied all of the charges.
Public Defender Paul DeWolfe sent his complaint to officials of the county government, the county school system and the detention center. He said that some of his clients are essentially held in solitary confinement and are denied education and other programs.
Jenkins replied: “Your assertion that conditions are egregious and that practices at the FCADC [Frederick County Adult Detention Center] subject juveniles to harm are very simply baseless and untrue.
“... It is true that the FCADC is an adult detention facility, and although the incarceration setting for juveniles is not ideal, accommodations are made to the best of our ability to ensure they are accorded all of their rights and privileges as required by the U.S. Constitution in accordance with federal and state law.”
The detention center does not generally house juveniles. However, young defendants who are being prosecuted as adults are being held in the jail while seeking transfer to a juvenile facility.
By law, the jail must keep the juveniles completely separate from the general jail population, so they are often kept alone. And the jail has no program for educating the juveniles while they are being held.
Jailing juveniles is supposed to be a short-term, transitional process, but if DeWolfe’s complaints are accurate, that is not always the case.
One youth was arrested on assault and attempted murder charges when he was just 16 and was held for more than a year with little contact and minimal schooling, DeWolfe said. When he turned 18, he was put into the general jail population.
DeWolfe wrote in his complaint that the conditions violated constitutional compulsory education requirements and Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
“Juveniles awaiting transfer hearings are kept in their cells for twenty-three hours of the day,” DeWolfe’s letter reads. “As a result, they are effectively isolated for extended periods of time without programming.”
Jenkins rejected allegations of violating the Constitution and insisted that the jail follows all laws. He said the jail does not isolate juveniles except for disciplinary reasons or when there is only one juvenile in the jail at a time, according to Jenkins.
“Juveniles are allowed to attend programs and recreation daily with supervision by staff,” Jenkins wrote. “They have access to phone and TV, and are checked daily by medical staff, classification specialists, shift supervisors and routinely throughout the day by officers.”
DeWolfe had said one client did not receive his prescribed medicines for months, but Jenkins said that was because his parents did not respond to repeated requests to sign a consent form.
Jenkins conceded that the jail has little to offer in the way of education, and said he has inquired about expanding its programming. Frederick Community College provides GED instruction at the jail, but the grant funding for the program covers only inmates over age 18, according to Jenkins.
He said some juveniles, who have independent education plans on file with Frederick County Public Schools before their detention, have access to a tutor, but it is very limited. The tutor currently visits one juvenile at the jail once a week, for 30 minutes to an hour.
County officials need to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. We suggest that county judges hire an independent investigator to assess the issue for them, and then adopt strict policies to ensure that juveniles are treated appropriately.
To us, that would seem to indicate that all juveniles — even those facing trial as an adult — be held in a juvenile facility while they are awaiting trial. Isolation and lack of educational opportunities are cruel practices, even if they are unintentional.