History of Juvenile Justice in Maryland

​​The origins of juvenile justice in Maryland can be traced back hundreds of years to early colonial times when children were jailed with adults when their only "crime" may have been homelessness. The role of today's Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) stems from the nineteenth century when Maryland first established institutions to reform delinquent youth. In 1830, the State adopted the radical policy of separating juvenile delinquents from adult criminals. The Legislature passed "An Act to Establish a House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents" creating for the first time an authority to provide troubled children with homes, education and job training.


House of Refuge-The First Facility Established in Maryland for Juveniles

The concept of the House of Refuge did not become a physical reality until 1850. After 20 years of virtually no progress since the passage of the1830 statute, the Managers of the House of Refuge reorganized themselves, and laid the cornerstone of the building on October 27, 1851 (First Annual Report 1851). Funding remained a problem, so building proceeded slower than anticipated. But by 1854, the Managers anticipated being ready to admit 300 juvenile wards as early as May or June 1855 (Third Annual Report 1853). The House of Refuge became operational in December 1855 and was located on Frederick Avenue in Baltimore City. The House of Refuge was re-named “Maryland School for Boys” in 1910. A year later, the facility was then shuttered and the operations were re-located to the site where the Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School currently stands near Loch Raven.

Early Facilities

In 1850 and 1882, Maryland built four facilities for young people. These four "reform schools" were governed by private boards and segregated by race and sex. All four were eventually organized as training schools and brought under one central administration.

In the 1920’s, the mission of one of the Maryland reform schools was "to educate and reform boys who are committed as street beggars, vagrants, incorrigible, criminal or who are placed here by parents, guardians or friends." Currently, youth are no longer committed to juvenile detention facilities because they are poor; they are not segregated by skin color; nor can they be dropped off by a parent or friend.

In 1922, the State Department of Education took over the operation of the training schools. In 1943, however, the operation of juvenile facilities in Maryland was under the authority of the State Department of Public Works.

Evolution of an Independent Agency

The Department of Juvenile Services as it is known today came into official existence in 1967. At that time, the Department was charged with running Maryland’s children’s centers and boys’ forestry camps. In 1969, the agency was re-organized under the authority of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as the Juvenile Services Administration (JSA). The JSA was charged with the administration of all schools, youth detention centers, forestry camps and probation/aftercare programs.

In 1987, JSA became an independent agency, and by 1989, was re-named the Department of Juvenile Services and restructured as a "cabinet-level" department.

The Department of Juvenile Services has evolved from a system that primarily provided care in facilities to a comprehensive service delivery system that focuses on treatment in the community as well as secure facilities and programs. DJS provides a range of programs and services designed to address the needs of the diverse population served.

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