Juvenile center set to close Young offenders are taught skills

May 25, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

The Careers Center, Anne Arundel County's alternative sentencing program that teaches job and communications skills to troubled youths, apparently is facing its last days, even though it has been highly praised by juvenile system judges.

County Executive Robert R. Neall will not reconsider his decision to slice the $333,660 program from his budget, spokeswoman Louise Hayman said yesterday.

The program is a victim of a county budget squeezed by cuts in state aid and the reduction in revenue caused by the property tax cap.

"This is a program that is not a mandated program," Ms. Hayman said, and during these lean fiscal times, the county executive just could not justify spending the money.

The program, which each year enrolls 100 youths who attend for 100 days, faced the budget ax last year, but it was saved by last-minute lobbying by County Council members.

Although the program was not included in Mr. Neall's initial $668.6 million operating budget, supporters were hoping he would reconsider and include the program in a supplemental budget before the spending plan is approved by the council on Thursday.

That apparently will not happen. Juvenile programs generally are run by the state.

Anne Arundel is the only county with such a program.

To lose it would be a shame, say those responsible for sending youths there.

"There is nothing else like it, as far as I'm concerned," said Erica J. Wolfe, a juvenile court master who testified for the Careers Center before the council last week. "It is unique. It is for the county's kids. . . .It provides a service which these children desperately need."

Philip T. Caroom, another juvenile master, is a strong supporter. "My personal experience with the program has been that for many kids we have sent there, it has done excellent things to turn them around," he said.

Yet a study Mr. Neall commissioned found no clear evidence the program led to lower rates of repeat offenses than for other youths merely on probation.

The study by Dr. Charles Wellford of the University of Maryland's Institute of Criminal Justice and Criminology found that about 70 percent of youths referred to the center at ages 13 or 14 are rearrested while they are still juveniles. That compares with 60 percent of youths placed on probation.

It was those figures Mr. Neall cited when he announced he would close the center.

But other figures show that only 33 percent of the program's graduates are re-arrested.

George Surgeon, the Careers Center director, said the evaluation was "designed to give them ammunition to close the program."

"I know the program works," he argued. "Nobody, but nobody, can tell me this is not a good program."

l Among the most disappointed are the youths who attend the Careers Center and say it has changed their lives.

"I've got a job now," said 17-year-old Joaquin, who has finished the program but attends classes there voluntarily. "If I was still out in the street, I'd probably still be hitting people, doing things I don't want to do," he said.

"This program has really helped me a lot. It gives people another chance," said 16-year-old Mario. "They sit down and they talk to you. They pump your head up to do right."

Mr. Surgeon is resigned, however, to the prospect that the graduation ceremony on June 18 will be the center's last day.

"My major concern is what's going to happen to these kids," he said.

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