New Hopes for Hickey School

June 27, 1993

Hopes for a miraculous rehabilitation at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School have flourished again as a new private operator takes control of the Baltimore County juvenile reformatory.

Each change at the Cub Hill institution over the past three years has inspired optimism that ultimately foundered on the hard realities of a recalcitrant population, obsolete facilities, an overwhelmed staff and frightened neighbors.

This time, cautious hope may be warranted with the takeover of Hickey by Youth Services International, which has won respect for its management of the Victor Cullen Center near Thurmont, a state facility for 120 less hard-core delinquents.

That experience should serve it well in turning around the troubled Hickey program, which has been run by the state, a private Colorado operator, and again by the state in a period of two years. The turmoil and turnover should give YSI clear evidence of the school's problems.

W. James Hindman, the Jiffy Lube founder and head of YSI, has taken on the Hickey challenge as a personal mission to use tough love in changing the dead-end lives of disturbed adolescents. Assuming responsibility for the school on a three-year, $49 million state contract, the Hindman group has assurances it will get needed renovations and that the number of youths will be reduced. The large population of 300 is cited as a major reason various rehabilitation programs have failed.

The private operator is committed to teaching these youths a useful vocation, which means that residents must stay there for a reasonable period instead of quickly passing in and out of the school.

Work is an essential part of the YSI curriculum, the escape route from poverty and low self-esteem, Mr. Hindman believes. Security is also essential to a successful program, not only for the neighbors but for school residents and the staff, as well.

There is no cheap solution to the challenges presented by these deeply disturbed youths. The per youth cost of YSI's contract is about the same as that of the state-run program. But the ultimate proof of YSI's cost (and human) effectiveness will be whether it can reduce the disappointing 50 percent recidivism rate of offenders sent to Hickey.

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