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Justice

What Incarceration Costs Cities

The full costs of jails extend far beyond brick-and-mortar expenses, and states don’t always pick up those tabs.
A suspected youth gang member waits to be booked inside the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Adult Detention Center after being arrested for possession of marijuana in Edinburg, Texas.
A suspected youth gang member waits to be booked inside the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Adult Detention Center after being arrested for possession of marijuana in Edinburg, Texas.REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

When demonstrators took over some of the streets of Baltimore Tuesday morning, blocking traffic on roads leading into downtown, they were protesting a proposal to build a new jail for teenagers in the city. On May 13, Maryland’s Board of Public Works approved plans to build a pre-trial detention center for teenagers charged with serious crimes so that they wouldn’t have to share jail space with adults.

The U.S. Department of Justice read Baltimore the riot act back in 2007 about haphazard practices such as housing teens alongside adults at the existing city jail. A previous proposal for a new youth jail, floated by then-Governor Martin O’Malley, called for a 120-bed facility that would cost about $70 million to build. But youth advocates rallied to have those plans squashed, which cleared the way for the current proposal, a 60-bed facility that will cost roughy $30 million to build.