Colo. company picked to run Hickey School

July 18, 1991|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Rebound, a Colorado company with "a philosophy of habilitation" in working with troubled youths, was awarded a $50 million, three-year contract yesterday to run the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, Maryland's only home for juvenile delinquents.

Nancy S. Grasmick, secretary of juvenile services, said yesterday that Rebound, a private, for-profit company, ranked first among six bidders for the job.

She called the transfer of the troubled facility to private operation "a historical moment" and said the state intends "to do Hickey right."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he was "very, very distressed" during a tour of

Hickey last year. Buildings were in disrepair, staff morale was low, and the residents were being "warehoused," he said, and learning "how to be better criminals."

Mrs. Grasmick, who toured Rebound's Brush, Colo., facility last week, said she was impressed by the "sense of community and family" she found there. She also liked the training provided to the staff and the counseling and education programs.

From Denver, Jane O'Shaughnessy, chief executive officer of Rebound, said the company began in 1988 and has 147 boys in its Brush facility. Youngsters are grouped into units of 12, who live together and see the same staff workers each day.

About 30 percent of the youths at Rebound have problems with the law later, Mrs. Grasmick said. At Hickey, in the Cub Hill section of Baltimore County, the rate is more than 50 percent.

The residents at Hickey range in age from 12 to 20, and most are between 13 and 18. A third of them are awaiting trial. The rest have been sent to the school for crimes that range from vandalism to assault with intent to murder.

The state spends about $17 million a year on Hickey. Rebound' three-year contract will cost only slightly less, Mrs. Grasmick said, but the quality of the programs will be much higher.

Rebound will begin its six-week transition at Hickey Monday and should be in full operation there by Sept. 1. Its contract, based on the assumption that Hickey will continue to serve about 360 youngsters, allows the option to renegotiate for two more years.

The state will continue to pay for maintenance and renovations at the 215-acre Cub Hill facility, and Hickey will take precedence over projects at other institutions for juveniles, Mrs. Grasmick said.

The 396 state workers who now work at Hickey are guaranteed jobs until Sept. 1. During the transition, they will be interviewed by Rebound. "We want those people who share our attitudes about the kids to stay and become employees," Ms. O'Shaughessy said.

"If they shape up, they'll be hired," Mr. Schaefer said. "If not, they'll be gone."

Mr. Schaefer first proposed turning Hickey over to a private operator in his State of the State address in January. Later, a 16-member gubernatorial task force, which included Cabinet secretaries and legislators,found that "privatization holds the 22 most promise for the Hickey School."

"No matter what you do, it can't get any worse than what's up there," Mr. Schaefer said this spring.

A report by the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center this year described Hickey as a violent place where young inmates get little real help in changing their behavior. The study said the inmates frequently assault staff members and each other, and some critics have said that the school's guards are not trained to deal with the youngsters.

Juvenile Services officials solicited proposals in early May from 35 private companies. Mrs. Grasmick said then that the changeover would be "an opportunity to restructure the program from scratch." Working with a private operator, she said, will bring changes more quickly.

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