Escapes jump at Hickey since privatization Senate panel disappointed with Colo. firm's performance

November 20, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Twenty-one boys have escaped from Maryland's school for juvenile delinquents in the 2 1/2 months since its operations were taken over by a Colorado firm, Juvenile Services Department and company officials disclosed yesterday.

That is more than twice the 10 escapes from the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County when the state ran the facility during the first eight months of this year.

The news angered members of a Senate committee, some of whom charged that Maryland's fledgling experiment in "privatizing" the Hickey School does not appear to be working. At least one suggested that if conditions there do not improve substantially by the time legislative budget hearings are held in January, the company's new three-year, $50 million contract could be in jeopardy.

"It's costing us more money, and I'd have to say I don't see any improvement over what it was when it was operated by the state," complained Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll.

But Jane O'Shaugnessy, executive director of Rebound Inc., the Colorado firm that took over the school on Sept. 1, attributed the escape problem to new staff who were unfamiliar with appropriate security procedures or the "sophistication" of the troubled children sent to Hickey.

"I think the essential problem was a staff training problem," she said, noting that only about 100 of Rebound's staff of 328 were previously employed by the state at Hickey. "It is unacceptable, but understandable that mistakes would be made," she told members of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Four of the 21 youths who escaped broke out in two separate incidents from behind fences in the most secure compound at Hickey, a 215-acre facility in the Cub Hill section of the county. The rest escaped in seven other incidents while being transported from one place to another, or by walking away from some of Hickey's unfenced cottages.

Mrs. O'Shaugnessy said Rebound has responded to the escape problem by reprimanding the employees involved, revising security procedures, and ordering 1,400 hours of training in security and other topics for the entire staff.

She said it was unrealistic to judge the company's performance after such a short transitional period.

Meanwhile, medical services, recreational and educational programs have been improved since Rebound took over, she said. Every child assigned there is now going to school daily.

But she said an estimated 80 percent of Hickey's 372 students have alcohol or drug abuse problems and said Rebound was in the process of gaining state certification for an expanded abuse treatment program.

She acknowledged that the Department of Juvenile Services now faces a $2.8 million deficit because the state had to pay for accrued leave and other benefits of Hickey employees who lost their jobs in August, but she said that was not Rebound's fault.

Juvenile Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar agreed andnoted that the expense was a one-time-only cost to the state.

Earl C. Huch, who is assigned to head an 11-person Juvenile Services monitoring team that has been overseeing Rebound's operations at Hickey, said of Rebound's response to the escapes: "In every instance, they've taken immediate corrective action."

Escapes used to be a chronic problem at Hickey. By August 1989, after the hiring of a security consultant, escapes dropped to 135 for the year and plunged to a mere 16 in 1990.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, who represents the area surrounding Hickey, said he has heard complaints about shortages of clothing and blankets. Some volunteer tutors have become disenchanted and threatened to resign, he said.

January," he warned Mrs. O'Shaugnessy, "if you don't [improve] things there, I'm going to be leading the fight to get rid of your contract."

Escapes from Hickey School

1991 (since 9/1/91).. .. .. 21

1991 (through 9/1/91).. .. .10

1990.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 16

1989.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 135

1988.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 187

1987.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 174

So: Department of Juvenile Services.

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