The Challenge for Hickey School

November 29, 1992

The state's abrupt termination of a private contractor's management of the Charles H. Hickey School for juvenile delinquents provides a fresh chance to re-examine the function and the structure of that troubled facility in Baltimore County that houses 350 of the toughest teen-age offenders.

Precipitous though the state's action was, it does not represent the failure of privatization or vindication of the previous state-run administration. Neither approach has proved capable of dealing with the hardest-core delinquents, children with multiple needs for healing but also with defined anti-social attitudes that hinder effective rehabilitation.

Rebound Inc., the Colorado contractor picked to run the deteriorating facility a year ago, could not prevent the continuing assaults on staff and resident escapes that have long plagued the institution. Despite its limited experience, Rebound was chosen as much on hope as it was on the conviction that its program would be effective at Hickey.

The $50 million, three-year contract awarded Rebound represented no cost savings to the state, but was heralded as a

chance to run the Hickey school in a new, effective manner. Hiring new employees, restructuring housing units, revamping the education and counseling offerings, the contractor showed initial promise. But the operator was slow to implement training programs, which vexed state officials anxious to see change.

Rebound faced several obstacles. The Juvenile Services agency was playing musical chairs with three different chiefs during the public-to-private transition. Funding for $8 million in renovations recommended by a state consultant was delayed.

Meanwhile, Hickey was seeing tougher, more incorrigible kids enter its razor-wire gateway. And Rebound officials conceded early on that youths spent too short a time at Hickey to fully benefit.

When the private operator failed to perform the fundamental task of confining the youth sent there, the bright experiment ended. Now the state must find $10 million for long overdue security improvements.

Whether a school of Hickey's size can effectively rehabilitate delinquents merits full public debate. Clearly, the security of the facility must be improved, whether the operator is state or private.

The state needs a reformatory for its most dangerous juvenile delinquents, not to warehouse them but to safely confine them so the difficult process of rehabilitation has a chance. Security not only assures the safety of the community and the staff, but also the safety of the young residents, and enhances their possibilities for change.

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