On April 1, the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) held its seventh annual Urban Child symposium, “Violence and the Urban Child: What Can We Do?”
Panelists at the daylong conference examined how the legal community and others can help break the cycle of violence in which traumatized children often grow up to commit crimes themselves.
After opening remarks by Dean Ronald Weich and CFCC Director Barbara Babb, Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, gave the morning’s keynote address. A subsequent panel discussed ways to interrupt the cycle of violence and featured commentary by Sam Abed, Maryland’s secretary of juvenile services; Anthony Batts, Baltimore’s police commissioner; Angela Johnese, director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice in Baltimore; and Thiru Vignarajah, a former Baltimore prosecutor who is now Maryland’s deputy attorney general in charge of overseeing criminal enforcement.
The afternoon’s keynote speaker was Vincent Schiraldi (in photo above), senior advisor for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in New York. He discussed his experiences as the director of Washington’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services from 2005-09, when he oversaw the city’s Oak Hill juvenile detention center.
Schiraldi campaigned to close the dangerous, overcrowded facility, telling the Washington City Paper in 2005: “This isn’t a place for kids. I want somebody to knock this down, pour salt on this earth, and hope nothing grows on this evil land.”
At the Urban Child conference, Schiraldi described the abysmal conditions at Oak Hill, where rats and cockroaches bit children at night and sexual abuse of juveniles and staff was rampant.
“The day we closed that facility was the proudest day of my career,” Schiraldi said. Oak Hill was shuttered in 2009 (see image in photograph above) and replaced with a smaller, up-to-date center designed to help rather than punish incarcerated youngsters.
“We need to be concerned about how we treat young people who have become involved in violence,” Schiraldi told the audience in the Moot Courtroom.
A panel after Schiraldi’s address included Robert Kershaw, associate judge, Baltimore City Circuit Court; Tara Huffman, director of the criminal and juvenile justice program at the Open Society Institute-Baltimore; and UB School of Law Professor Colin Starger. UB School of Law Professor David Jaros served as the moderator.