"The community is inundated with institutions in that area," Conway said. "You have the prison system, the city jail, all these things that people don't want," in their neighborhoods.

Conway said she and others had identified about six other locations that could work as alternatives, including some abandoned schools. She also said the proposed budget for the project "didn't make sense" when there were sensible alternatives.

"I just think it's better that the governor has changed his mind at the urging of many legislators," Conway said.

Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, said he does not expect the plan to meet stiff opposition in the General Assembly other than a typical evaluation of big-dollar spending.

"The plan represents a huge change from simply building a warehouse for young offenders charged as adults," Anderson said. "If there are legislators that feel this isn't an appropriate solution, so far I haven't run into them."

A letter signed by the chairs of the Legislative Black Caucus and the Baltimore City Delegation, as well as other delegates and state senators, signaled that the groups will continue to push for an overhaul of the way children are charged as adults. The letter was sent to the governor's office Wednesday.

"While we concede the plan is a step in the right direction, it is merely a step," the letter said, describing additional actions the delegations want, such as the creation of an oversight committee on youth justice issues.

Hathaway Ferebee, director of the Safe and Sound Campaign, said the government should invest more in city recreational centers, apprenticeships and alternative sentencing, such as counseling for nonviolent offenders.

"Gov. O'Malley and state legislators have the opportunity to take that same money they were so willing to spend to build a jail to hold African-American kids — to house kids who are now 5, 6 or 7 years — and put in opportunities so all our kids have a fair chance at healthy development."

Ferebee said because nearly all the juveniles in Baltimore charged as adults are black, continuing to incarcerate those charged with nonviolent offenses "perpetuates this racism and it predicts the failure of young African-American kids living in Baltimore City."

To Kara Aanenson, lead organizer of the Just Kids Partnership, the unveiling of the new plan indicates that the state is willing to move in a direction that has better outcomes for young people and for public safety.

"We really think the governor and the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Juvenile Services all came together for something that is in the best interest of the kids. Is there more work to be done? Of course. But we definitely applaud the governor for taking this big step and not building the new jail."  

Baltimore Sun reporters Carrie Wells and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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