Court clarifies sentences of juveniles

January 03, 1991|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that two Baltimore judges erred when they ordered state juvenile authorities to send three young offenders to a Pennsylvania reformatory at state expense.

Decisions by Baltimore Circuit Judges Joseph H.H. Kaplan and Roger W. Brown to send three young offenders to the Glen Mills School, a private reformatory in Concordville, Pa., were "improper" and "prejudicially erroneous," the state's highest court said yesterday.

Officials with the state Department of Juvenile Services, which pays for the care of juvenile delinquents, applauded the ruling. The opinion answers the question of how far judges can go in specifying the place of treatment for someone under state supervision.

Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said he was "somewhat disappointed with how [the decision] ultimately will affect the state's ability to serve the best interest of these youngsters as well as protecting the public."

Simms called the decision a "temporary bottleneck in the progression in this state to try to respond to the acute needs of youngsters."

In a unanimous decision, the appeals court said the circuit judges exceeded their power when they sent the three teen-agers to Glen Mills, at a cost of $32,000 a year for each boy. The court may "designate the type of facility," but not a "specific private facility."

"It is difficult to perceive how the functions of DJS could be properly fulfilled if it could not control the monies appropriated to it," the decision said.

The department's three-year plan, in which Juvenile Services Secretary Linda D'Amario Rossi details her budgetary priorities, would be "thrown into utter disarray if the secretary were obliged to spend the department's funds as dictated by a court."

"We take into account that it is DJS, not the court, which is charged with administration of the state juvenile, diagnostic, training, detention and rehabilitation institutions," the ruling said.

The department has maintained that the teen-agers -- charged with auto theft, drug possession and distribution -- should have been placed, at less cost, in one of five state-run youth centers. In one case, a juvenile counselor testified that sending the boy to Glen Mills was "cavalier and fiscally irresponsible" when a "perfectly acceptable program" existed in Maryland.

Prosecutors argued that Maryland does not have a program comparable to that at Glen Mills, which offers solid academic and vocational training in surroundings that resemble a prep school.

"Is there something exactly like it here? No," said Diane Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Department of Juvenile Services.

But Hutchins said other programs in Maryland offer shorter stays than does Glen Mills, are less costly and are just as effective. The department, like most state agencies, has been under severe pressure to control spending.

The teen-agers have been at Glen Mills about six months, said Deputy Attorney General Judson P. Garrett Jr. They will return to Baltimore for hearings, where the judges must revise their orders to send the youths to Glen Mills.

"It's a possibility that they may stay at Glen Mills," Hutchins said.

But about 15 other Baltimore youths may be pulled out of Glen Mills because juvenile authorities have said they cannot pay for them, said Mary V. McNamara, an assistant state's attorney in the juvenile division. The Juvenile Court does not have funds of its own with which to pay for them.

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