Tough lessons for a tough task

June 18, 1993

When the third management team in two years assumes control of Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for juvenile delinquents next month, both the private operator and the state should have learned some hard lessons.

One is that privatization is no panacea for the problems at the northern Baltimore County reformatory housing 288 of the state's most violent youths; it is merely an option that is only as effective as the individual firm, its program and staff.

Two, the state must provide the required physical facilities, and meet its promises to the program, without haggling and foot-dragging on the money after the fact.

Three, good security and discipline is at least as essential as good instruction to reassure the surrounding community and the staff -- as well as to focus the juveniles' attention on the program rather than on possibilities for escape.

Four, the length of stay for a Hickey resident must be long enough to give the program a chance to take hold. These juveniles, without fixed sentences or parole dates, should be held to the rehabilitation program instead of quickly passing through a revolving door. Effective vocational training at the school also requires time.

Five, youths should be separated by type of offense and offender status, not mixing detainees with long-term residents, and segregating the sex offenders. The population must be sharply reduced by transfers of some to new programs elsewhere.

Six, the cost of such a facility will remain high. It costs more to stay one year at Hickey than to attend four years at the University of Maryland.

Rebound Inc., which took over from the state in 1991, had good intentions and tried to develop innovative ideas. But it failed to meet state expectations for job training and, particularly, for keeping youths inside the grounds. Its Colorado camp experience was unsuited to Hickey's demands.

Youth Services International, a Maryland firm, has not dealt with this type of delinquent, either. But it has managed Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County for 120 less-violent offenders for a year, receiving good marks for its work. That should give it a leg up on getting Hickey running properly. It will also surely profit from the past three years of turmoil and turnover that badly exposed the Hickey school's defects and needs.

W. James Hindman, the charismatic twice-made millionaire who

heads YSI, is committed to the three-year, $49 million contract not only as a savvy businessman but also as a compassionate man with a mission to use tough love to change the lives of these troubled adolescents.

If his realistic vision and wisdom prevail, this could be the turning point for Hickey and for the youths without a future who live there.

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