Hickey on the rebound?

September 28, 1992

The Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for troubled juveniles seems little better off than it was a year ago, when its operation was taken over by a private Colorado firm called Rebound Inc.

The Hickey School, where 372 youths are housed, is the state's only large-scale facility for delinquent juveniles. In recent weeks, it made headlines with two separate escape incidents. You don't have to live in the Cub Hill section of Baltimore County to sense the potential danger of these escapes or to feel a remedy is sorely needed. The state already has set aside funds for a fence that would encircle the buildings from which the youths made their break. That's a good preventive step.

Escapes are a public-relations nightmare for Rebound, but there are lesser-known problems that also bode ill. For example, the company has been slow to establish vocational training, substance abuse treatment and after-care programs that were much ballyhooed when the three-year, $50 million contract was announced last year.

Granted, Rebound is only a third of the way into its contract, and the firm must be finding its task at Hickey much more complex than its only previous endeavor in this field -- running a private facility for 150 troubled youths in Brush, Colo. The state juvenile services department nonetheless must hold Rebound to its promises and assure that all contracted programs are carried out as earnestly as possible.

Given the Hickey school's woeful history, anything Rebound achieves would be an improvement over the state's dismal performance as operator of the facility. A pair of early 1991 reports on the school described shabby buildings, low staff morale and youths who were "warehoused" and often mistreated by their overseers. A state legislator, commenting on one of the reports, said she and her colleagues found it "so devastating, so appalling, we didn't know whether to cry or scream." Gov. William Donald Schaefer even mentioned Hickey's miseries in his 1991 State of the State address.

The people of Rebound have their work cut out for them. At least one early positive sign is that residents are said to be treated more humanely. Meanwhile, the company certainly deserves more than one year to correct problems that have plagued the Hickey school for decades. At the same time, the juvenile services department should keep a close watch on Rebound and make certain that the state and, most importantly, the Hickey residents get their $50 million worth.

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