Habilitation at Hickey

July 19, 1991

In the jargon of corrections systems, "rehabilitation" is a familiar word. But Juvenile Services Secretary Nancy Grasmick prefers to talk instead about "habilitation." After all, many of the young people who come under the department's jurisdiction have been "at risk" since birth and even before. How can you rehabilitate someone who has never been habilitated in the first place -- who has never known that warm circle of safety and care that gives children the nurture, confidence and skills they need in order to grow into self-sufficient, law-abiding adults?

In essence, habilitating young offenders is the real challenge facing the Charles H. Hickey School, where Maryland's toughest juvenile cases end up. Rebound, the Colorado agency which this week was awarded a three-year contract to operate Hickey, seems especially well-suited to this task. Rebound emphasizes educational programs and special help for young people who often have experienced nothing but failure in school, and it also offers an impressive range of vocational training programs, from computers to horticulture to small engine repair. The agency also pays attention to emotional and social development, and it has committed itself to a three-year "after-care" program that will follow kids once they leave the school itself.

In Colorado, only about 30 percent of the young people who go through the Rebound program end up back in custody. Compare that to Hickey's rate of higher than 50 percent, and those figures alone suggest that it's time for old concepts of rehabilitation to give way to innovative ways of habilitating Maryland's troubled youth.

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