West County Surprise

September 01, 1994

In the 10 years since he has been on the Anne Arundel County Council, David G. Boschert can recall District of Columbia officials contacting him but once about their detention facilities in West County. The D.C. Department of Human Services, which manages the facilities, has a history of not cooperating with the county, with dangerous consequences. In 1992, county police never linked an attack and car theft to an escapee from the now-closed Cedar Knoll minimum-security prison because the district never bothered to tell them an escape had occurred.

Since then, district officials have agreed to work with county police in catching escapees, but unfortunately it looks as if communication in general between the district and the county is no better than ever. Last week, Anne Arundel County was shocked to discover at least 40 juvenile offenders living at Forest Haven near Laurel -- an institution they thought had been vacant since 1991.

District officials say it's not their fault if the county and the surrounding communities didn't figure out that they've been using Forest Haven for more than a year. Never mind that Forest Haven sits in the weed-infested woods, off the beaten path and that county police and neighborhood leaders had absolutely no reason to go back there. (As it is, Mr. Boschert, police and local emergency agencies found out juvenile offenders were there only because Ray Smallwood, chief of the Maryland City Fire Department, was nosing around.)

It is not the job of West County residents to run periodic checks on district properties. If the district intended to start using Forest Haven again, it should have told Mr. Boschert or County Executive Robert R. Neall. The county needs to know. What if a fire had broken out? How were local firefighters supposed to know which buildings were occupied so they could rescue people? Are we really supposed to believe the district would have contacted county police in case of an escape when they haven't seen fit to tell them juveniles were still living at Forest Haven in the first place?

D.C. officials note that the kids at Forest Haven are nonviolent offenders who pose no threat to the community. That may be true, but it is beside the point. The district maintains correctional facilities in Anne Arundel County; Anne Arundel has a right -- and a need -- to know what is going on there.

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