Athey Proposes Closing Of Youth Detention Center

Delegate Cites Security Problems At Cedar Knoll

March 08, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

A series of escapes from the Cedar Knoll juvenile detention center has prompted an Anne Arundel County lawmaker to propose closing the Maryland City facility.

State Del. Tyras S. "Bunk" Athey, a Democratwho represents the community, said Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly should close the facility if security cannot be improved dramatically and soon.

Escapes have long plagued Cedar Knoll -- one of three juvenile detention centers operated by Washington's Department of Human Servicesin Maryland City -- and the community, Athey said.

But recent violence demands immediate action, Athey said.

Larry Brown, spokesmanfor the D.C. Department of Human Services, said the district has responded. Kelly transferred two administrators last month from the city's Lorton, Va., maximum-security prison to take over operation of Cedar Knoll. She also assigned six new correctional officers, instituteda 12-hour work shift and promised additional guard training.

Kelly is "committed to do something about it, once and for all. Not just to better serve the kids, but for the whole community out there," Brown said.

But neither Athey nor the Maryland City residents are satisfied.

"Just working people a 12-hour day and giving them a little more training isn't going to help our problem," Athey said. "We need a state-of-the-art security system."

Ray Smallwood, president ofthe Maryland City Civic Association, said, "When these kids break out, they are looting our houses and stealing our cars on their way back to Washington. It's got to stop."

Athey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has contacted the Maryland congressional delegation, County Executive Robert Neall and Gov. William Donald Schaefer in hopes of spurring some changes.

The one person Athey and other local officials have been unable to reach is Kelly.

Neall sought to meet with Kelly last month, writing her a personal letter and telephoning her office three times, said Louise Hayman, the executive'sspokeswoman. "So far that has been a blind alley," she said.

Athey said he became alarmed when four youths escaped Feb. 8, assaulted acounty woman in a parking lot and stole her car. He became "scared as hell" two weeks later when he learned that a correctional officer was slashed with a razor in a Feb. 17 breakout.

Athey said MarylandCity and Jessup residents are accustomed to living with prisons, among them the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup, the Brockbridge Correctional Facility and the Jessup Pre-Release Unit.

But they are "more terrified of these kids than they are of any of the stateprisoners," Athey said. "These aren't just troubled kids, they're hardened criminals."

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