Caged Birds Sing: ACLU of Maryland Releases Report by Girls at DJS's Waxter Center

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
March 11, 2010 12:00 am

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LAUREL, MD – Hoping that finally their voices and experiences will be heard and heeded within the juvenile justice system in Maryland, today the ACLU of Maryland is releasing a report by girls from the troubled Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel, MD, detailing problems they have had at Waxter and offering their own solutions to state leaders. The report, “Caged Birds Sing: A Report by Girls on the A Unit at Waxter”, voices the perspectives of girls on Waxter’s “A Unit,” which houses a small number of girls who are “committed” to Waxter for treatment.

“We think the people in charge should hear what we have to say about our lives, how we got involved with the juvenile justice system, and how the system – and all the other adults in charge – can do better by us,” said the girls, who must remain anonymous in the report. “We have very specific ideas about what you, the adults in power, can do to make sure we are treated properly under the law, and not made to feel trapped and lost in a system that is supposed to be helping us.”

In the report, the girls explain that they need help, but believe they are not getting the help they need while locked up in a prison-like facility in poor conditions with virtually no individualized therapy, inadequate educational services, and little access to family and support networks when they need them most. They offer ideas about how to make Maryland’s juvenile justice system fairer to girls, based on their experiences, and informed by their strong sense of justice. Among other things, the girls recommend that the Maryland juvenile justice system:

  • Develop better ways of getting to know us, our families, what we’re going through, and what we need.
  • Give girls the same types of opportunities you give boys, like hands-on experiences and different types of job training programs.
  • Close the committed program at Waxter and move the committed girls to a cottage or something that feels more like a home; our own space that is clean and where we won’t get sick.
  • Create a place just for runaway girls that is more like a home—like a fenced-in group home, or a cottage far from the highways, so there’s no place to run.
  • Create an evening reporting center for girls in Baltimore City.

The report is an outgrowth of advocacy workshops conducted by American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland’s Yale Law School Liman Fellow, Sonia Kumar, in which Kumar helps girls identify ways they can be their own advocates and effect change. This report is but one piece of advocacy undertaken by the girls; in addition they have written testimony on the experience of youth homelessness for the Baltimore City Council, a letter requesting regular meetings with the Waxter Superintendent, and a letter to the Baltimore Sun responding to an article about Waxter.

“In everything they do, these girls’ voices are powerful because they are motivated by a sense of fairness, and because the girls are so perceptive about their own situations and the ways in which the system could be doing better,” Kumar said. “That is what is so inspiring about working with kids. You can’t miss the truth in what they’re saying.”

Go online to read the full report:

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