Troopers to patrol Hickey School after 3 more youths flee

November 21, 1992|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday ordered state troopers to patrol the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for young criminal offenders in Baltimore County after three youths overpowered a worker and fled the Cub Hill campus in a stolen car.

The escape, the second this week, came the day after state officials decided to terminate the $17-million-a-year contract of Rebound Inc., the Colorado company that had operated Hickey for a little more than a year in a closely watched experiment in privatization.

"It's very important to reassure the community and to protect the staff and the juveniles who are living there during the transition while the state is working with Rebound," said Page Boinest, the governor's acting press secretary.

Rebound's management is to be phased out over the next 60 days, while the rank-and-file workers will remain on the job.

Yesterday's escape came just after 2 p.m. A female staff member was grabbed in a choke-hold, her keys were taken and the three youths then fled in her car, said Robert Hughes, a Rebound spokesman. The staffer, in a short-term detention unit on the unfenced part of the Hickey campus, was shaken up but not injured, he said.

Police were searching last night for the two 16-year-olds and one 17-year-old, all from Baltimore.

On Tuesday night, a counselor received serious head injuries after being attacked by a youth in a melee that led to the escape of four teen-agers. More than 100 youths have run away since Rebound took over on Sept. 1, 1991.

Both Rebound, which willingly agreed to give up its three-year contract early, and the Department of Juvenile Services said broader disagreements, not the recent rash of escapes,prompted the state to end the contract.

But the escapes have marred Rebound's image with the public, the governor and the legislature.

State officials were unhappy with Rebound's slow progress in developing training and rehabilitation programs for young offenders.

Rebound, acknowledging that it had underestimated the problems at Hickey, claimed Juvenile Services moved kids in and out too fast for them to benefit from long-term treatment.

Mary Ann Saar, secretary of juvenile services, said yesterday she hopes that by early next year she can find a new contractor to operate Hickey with some "reformatting" and a modest reduction in population, from the current 350 to about 300.

She said a request for proposals will be sent soon to the five companies that lost the Hickey contract to Rebound in last year's bidding, as well as to other private companies operating programs for juvenile delinquents.

Ms. Saar acknowledged that some potential bidders may be deterred by Rebound's premature departure. "If I were to say I'm not worried about reponses, I'd be lying. But I do think there are vendors who will be interested," she said.

Some child advocates and experts in juvenile corrections said Rebound's failure to turn around conditions at Hickey shows the facility, under heavy criticism for many years, should be closed or drastically restructured and reduced in size.

"Large, congregate warehouses are not the solution to the juvenile crime problem," said David M. Altschuler of the Institute for Policy Studies at the Johns Hopkins University and the author of several studies of youth crime and corrections. "It's an outmoded and unworkable concept."

Dr. Altschuler noted that many states have closed or are phasing out old, large training schools for young offenders, replacing them with much smaller, high-security units for violent offenders and intensive, community-based programs for less-violent youths.

"It doesn't make sense to get another private company to come in to do the same thing," said Susan Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth, which has monitored Hickey for years.

"I think this should make us question whether the Hickey concept can work," she said.

Ms. Leviton said the departure of Rebound, which will turn the operation of Hickey back to the Department of Juvenile Services in 60 days, gives Maryland "a wonderful opportunity" to rethink the way it deals with young offenders.

"If they think the problem is just the contractor, they're missing the message," she said.

Ms. Saar said she is aware of strong sentiment among outsiders against Hickey-style facilities. But she said the critics "have never run an operation, so they have never tested their philosophy."

Ms. Saar declined to criticize Rebound in detail.

But she suggested that a residential facility for delinquents can be successful, pointing to the recently opened Victor Cullen Center in the Frederick County town of Sabillasville. "I think they're doing very, very well," she said.

Youth Services International, which operates the 60-bed Cullen Center as well as facilities in Iowa and Tennessee, was an unsuccessful bidder on the original Hickey contract. YSI Spokeswoman Joan Stephens said the company wants to bid on any new contract.

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