By: Lane’ Johnson
Baltimore City runs two Youth Connections Centers on the Eastside and Westside where teens who violate the curfew are sent. The centers have an annual budget of $195,000.
The funding for the centers and exactly how that money is spent has been a hot topic. The American Civil Liberties Union, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Councilman Brandon Scott, all have different ideas about what the Youth Connection Centers mean for Baltimore.
Scott is behind the new, more restrictive curfew and sees the recreation center closures as a good idea. “When the city had more rec centers open, it had more juvenile crime.”
The ACLU worries that the curfew is another way to lock up young black youth because the officer cannot tell the person’s age by their looks. The curfew’s new provisions are similar to stop-and-frisk laws. Rawlings-Blake and Scott insist the new provisions are not going to sweep kids into the criminal justice system and say the curfew is designed to keep kids safe.
In 2012, the Baltimore Sun reported that four recreation centers on the west side of Baltimore City were closed.
“The idea that we would close rec centers and then reopen them up [as curfew centers] during these odd hours,” said Kumar, an American Civil Liberties lawyer in Baltimore. “I question what services you can provide in a meaningful way at two in the morning.”
Kumar said it doesn’t make sense to close recreation centers in the city and then reopen them as curfew center. “Instead of curfew centers, lets open up Lillian at night,” she said, referring to the East Side curfew center which functions as a recreation center during the day but becomes a youth connection center at night.
“The curfew centers are closed rec centers,” said Kumar. “We need rec centers, not curfew centers.”
Under the new curfew, parents can be fined from $30 to $500 if their child is taken to the curfew center. The fines are determined by the officer at the scene. The maximum fine is applied to the most egregious cases. Only three maximum fines were handed out last year. Parents can have the fine waived if parenting classes and community service are successfully completed. “This is not something the city has been collecting money on,” said Scott. “It’s been put in there basically as fear tactics to say listen; you have to do better by your kids.”
Angela Johnese, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, says the city has not issued any citations since the amended ordinance went into effect in August.
“Some of the places should have been closed and should have never been opened as rec centers,” said Scott, citing aging, ill-equipped centers in desperate need of upgrades. “They were built to make sure black people never left their neighborhoods.”
Baltimore resident Kristol Perry is in favor of the new curfew but questions where the money is going from the fines and who is paying to keep the curfew centers open.
“I think it should be enforced and I think $500 is a good price because if it’s lower than that then they really don’t care about their children’s safety,” said Perry. “So if they are fining the parents $500, then where is the money going? The money is not going back into the community. We have so much money in Baltimore and we don’t see it all.”
Scott is confident that many fines will not be given out to parents and the new curfew will help the youth to stay safe and out of trouble.
The Youth Connection centers, while technically curfew centers, use the new names and the rec center locations to shed their previous bad reputations in the community.
Tanya Williams, previously supervising the old curfew centers for the Baltimore City Schools is now a facilitator at the new “Youth Connection Centers” and said the old curfew centers suffered from these perceptions. That may change. “The youth connection centers are run out of the rec centers now,” she said. “What do you think when you hear rec centers? It’s voluntary.”
In June, the Mayor passed a bill that revamped the 20-year-old curfew center and transferred the responsibility to fund it from the school system to the Mayor’s office.
“At the time when this was first operated it was out of a school Baltimore City Public School called the Success Academy,” said Williams. “The school system had a major part in it. Baltimore is paying all these folks to work overtime.”
Under the old curfew, Williams says there could be 80 to 90 children there a night. That is far higher than the new numbers; only 147 young people were picked up during the curfew’s first month this year. Even though some parents now use the new curfew “Connections” centers as babysitting drop-offs, the numbers are still lower than under the old curfew.
“Last week I was at Collington Square [Connections Center] and there were only four kids,” said Williams.
“We are not utilizing the resources because if I’m opening Lillian Jones Recreation Center and only five students come in the whole entire night,” said Williams, who thinks that the new provisions to the curfew needs to be changed to help benefit the youth more. “Once again are we getting to the issue in Baltimore City?”