State to review juvenile program after rape charge

June 21, 1991|By Keith Paul

The state Department of Juvenile Services will re-evaluate the placement of all youngsters at the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center after one of the center's residents was charged with rape, officials said yesterday.

A 15-year-old boy housed at the center for juvenile offenders, which is state-owned but privately run, was charged with raping a jogger at Centennial Park near Columbia on April 26 while he was on a field trip from O'Farrell.

xTC The boy is in custody pending a July 13 hearing to determine whether he will be tried as an adult, said Jacqueline Lampell, a Juvenile Services spokeswoman.

The 38 remaining residents at O'Farrell will be reassessed to determine if they belong at the center or should be placed at higher security facilities, said Nancy S. Grasmick, director of Juvenile Services.

"I think whenever there's an alleged incident like this, it causes us to want to examine the procedures to ensure that they are as strong as they need to be," Mrs. Grasmick said.

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Grasmick also said that the state has taken or plans to take several other steps designed to make sure such incidents do not happen again.

* The state will hire a "nationally recognized" expert to assess its programs for treating sexual offenders. The 15-year-old had been undergoing court-ordered therapy at O'Farrell for attempting two sexual assaults in Prince George's County.

* No sex offenders will be referred to the O'Farrell Center until its residents are evaluated.

* Until the evaluation is complete, a moratorium has been imposed on O'Farrell's trips to Centennial Park and other off-grounds trips have been cut back. Only vocational education trips are allowed.

* O'Farrell also has increased the staff-to-youth ratio for off-grounds trips from one staffer for each five youths to one for each four. It also has increased supervisory training for staff members.

* Beginning Sept. 1, the state will impose new procedures for off-grounds trips at all of its programs for juvenile offenders. The policy will outline which youths are eligible for trips, and programs will be required to submit a statement decribing the trip, transportation, supervision arrangements and record-keeping plans.

"Reasonable people will look at our efforts [and conclude that] where we can, we have made recommendations to strengthen out procedures so there can be greater assurance," Mrs. Grasmick said.

She added that any program that does not comply with the new procedures could lose its contract with Juvenile Services.

On the day of the Centennial rape, the 15-year-old, other residents and supervisors from the Carroll County center were at the park as part of the fresh-air program.

Witnesses who saw the final moments of the assault told police that they watched the attacker run to the park's exit and flag down a departing van.

Police later learned that the van was owned and operated by the O'Farrell center and, after questioning the supervisors, identified the boy who had chased the van.

Juvenile Services started an investigation soon after the boy was arrested at his family's Capitol Heights home. Even though officials at O'Farrell had already been questioned by police about the rape, the boy was on a five-day pass from the center at the time of his arrest.

In the wake of the incident, Mrs. Grasmick said the O'Farrell center has taken action against an unspecified number of employees for violating field trip procedures. She would not elaborate on the actions or the procedures violated.

Officials at the O'Farrell center could not be reached for comment after Mrs. Grasmick's news conference, nor could officials at the Northeastern Family Institute, a Massachusetts non-profit agency that runs the O'Farrell center.

Mrs. Grasmick said no action will be taken against Northeastern, adding that the institute has been concerned about the incident and helpful in the investigation.

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