State, judge at odds over housing young offenders in Pa.

October 01, 1990|By Eileen Canzian

The Baltimore teen-ager was in Juvenile Court again, this time for stealing a car. The prosecutor argued he should be sent to private reformatory in Pennsylvania, and the judge agreed.

But the state Department of Juvenile Services -- which pays for the care of such youngsters -- is of a different opinion.

Department officials say that the youth could be handled just as well, and at less cost, in a state-run center in Maryland. They have also told Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan that if he insists on sending the boy to Pennsylvania, they will refuse to pay the bill.

"We recognize that judges can specify the type of facility they want kids in," Juvenile Services Secretary Linda D'Amario Rossi said last week. But in Ms. Rossi's view, a judge can't go so far as to name the program -- particularly if the program is run by a private organization that would bill her department.

Judge Kaplan, who said he was surprised by the agency's position, has scheduled a hearing for this morning to listen to conflicting views about his judicial role.

"The state's attorney said I had the authority to do this. At the time, I thought I had the authority," Judge Kaplan said. "If they can show me some law that says I don't have the authority, then I'll reconsider."

This morning's hearing technically involves just one child whom Judge Kaplan wants to send to the Glen Mills School, a private school for juvenile delinquents in Concordville, Pa. But the hearing has broader ramifications.

Ms. Rossi's department recently informed Glen Mills that it would not pay the school for the care of 14 other youths placed there by Maryland judges in July and August. Ms. Rossi said that the judges, whom she declined to identify, did not get her department's approval for the placements.

Should Judge Kaplan rule that Ms. Rossi's agency does not have to pay for such youngsters, it is likely that they would be returned to Maryland. The Juvenile Court does not have funds of its own to pay for them.

Ms. Rossi acknowledged that judges have taken similar actions in the past and that her department did not formally object. "From time to time, judges have done this. It was a case here and a case there. We'd call them, we'd discuss it, and it would get worked out," Ms. Rossi said.

But two things have changed. Her department, like other state agencies, is under severe pressure to control its spending. And Juvenile Court judges have been ordering costly private care for youngsters -- usually at Glen Mills -- much more often, Ms. Rossi said.

The unusual school received widespread publicity here after disturbances last fall at Maryland's troubled reformatory, the Charles H. Hickey School in Cub Hill. Both programs house repeat juvenile offenders but have little else in common.

While some "dormitories" at Hickey resemble adult prisons, the Glen Mills campus looks like that of a prestigious preparatory school. There are no guards or fences. The program is based on the idea that even tough young men will rise to the occasion if offered solid training in pleasant surroundings.

Surprisingly, the cost of the program -- about $32,000 a year -- is about half that of keeping a youngster in Hickey's grim facilities.

But Ms. Rossi argues that many juvenile offenders need neither Hickey nor Glen Mills but shorter stays in group homes or other rehabilitation programs less costly and, she says, just as effective. Sending the youngster in today's case to a state youth center in Western Maryland would cost about $17,000, Ms. Rossi said.

She has criticized the director of Glen Mills, Cosimo "Sam" Ferrainola, for sending recruiters to visit Maryland judges. "Sam wants to 'save' kids, and that's fine. But he thinks his program is the only way to do it, and that's not true," Ms. Rossi said.

Before Judge Kaplan this morning, Department of Juvenile Services lawyers will likely point to a 1980 decision by the state Court of Special Appeals. It held that a judge couldn't order the state health department to pay for a foster child's care in a private psychiatric hospital.

But Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said he does not believe that should serve as a precedent in this case.

"This is an issue of statutory interpretation," Mr. Simms said. "We believe the statute gives the court the inherent authority to request a specific placement that is in the best interest of the child.

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