Hickey will be smaller, more secure

January 20, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

The Charles H. Hickey Jr. school for juvenile delinquents will be leaner and meaner when its next private operator takes over this spring -- a smaller facility with more than two-thirds of its offenders behind security fences.

Youths housed at the reformatory will be "the baddest of the bad," Joseph Newman, deputy secretary of juvenile services, told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday.

His department's plans to reinvent Hickey, plans already distributed to 17 corporations interested in running the troubled facility in Cub Hill, also call for the state's first program for young sex offenders -- the fastest-growing population in the juvenile justice system.

Hickey has room for up to 310 youths, two-thirds of whom are housed in an unfenced portion of the campus reserved for less-serious offenders.

Under the new plan, many of those youngsters will be diverted to other programs.

The result will be a more homogenous Hickey, officials said -- a place where the common bond is the youths' perceived threat to public safety.

"Young people are coming in sicker and, in our words, slicker," Juvenile Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar said. "It's not just in Maryland, it's across the country."

Two years ago, when the state first advertised for a private contractor to run the so-called training school, then-Juvenile Services Secretary Nancy S. Grasmick said the proposal was deliberately vague to encourage innovation. The winner, Rebound Inc. of Colorado, made some changes at Hickey but was quickly undermined by frequent escapes and the institution's size.

Now the department, under Ms. Saar, has stringent guidelines for what it expects in exchange for the multimillion-dollar opportunity to run the school.

Here are some of the features of the "new" Hickey as described to legislators yesterday:

* It will have a smaller population, with the number of beds dropping from 310 to 240. Another 50 youths awaiting trial will still be held in a detention center on the campus, but Ms. Saar eventually wants to move that program to another site.

* Only 72 youths will live outside the secure area -- less than half the number now. These 12- to 20-year-olds will need close supervision, but won't be considered a threat to public safety. And they will stay at Hickey a relatively short period of time -- a week to three months.

* The main focus will be an "enhanced security program" with 144 residents, who will live in cell-like rooms behind fences and whose stays will last one year to 18 months. These are the young men Mr. Newman called "the baddest of the bad," in part because they are at greatest risk for moving into the adult justice system.

* A sex offenders program is to be in place within a year of the next private takeover. It will serve 24 youths whose offenses range from inappropriate touching to rape.

Maryland now sends its sex offenders to private treatment programs throughout the country.

The cost ranges from $50,000 to $180,000 per year, Ms. Saar told delegates, depending on whether the offender has special education needs or severe emotional problems.

But officials think Maryland should have its own program, given the sharp increase in offenses. From fiscal 1991 to fiscal 1992, the number of sex crimes among juveniles jumped from 605 to 772, an increase of 27.6 percent.

National studies indicate that these youths often are victims themselves, who then begin preying on younger siblings or friends.

In its guidelines to potential bidders, state officials said the typical offender here can be expected to fit this mold.

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