Sex offender youth facility 'dead' in city Needed zoning change won't be introduced, area's councilmen say

State had given its OK

Irvington center faces same fate as proposals in Towson, Ellicott City

October 07, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers JoAnna Daemmerich and Robert Guy Matthews contributed to this article.

Facing the same community opposition that killed similar projects in Towson and Ellicott City, a proposal to house juvenile sex offenders at a West Baltimore site appears to be dead.

City officials say that they will not introduce a proposal to make the zoning change needed for Chesapeake Treatment Centers to create a 26-bed facility at Mountain Manor Treatment Center on Frederick Avenue in Irvington.

"Nothing has been introduced and, at this point, nothing will be introduced," said City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who represents the area, part of the 6th District. "I'm comfortable that this thing is pretty much dead."

Chesapeake Treatment Centers had received approval from the state Health Resources Planning Commission for the facility, which would handle a population ranging in age from 11 to 17 labeled as violent by state juvenile officials.

But it needed a zoning variance to build the facility. Although any council member could ask for the change, in the etiquette of the City Council such zoning matters are almost always introduced by the members who represent the area affected.

None of the three 6th District council members is going to bring the matter to the council.

"It is really just a chain reaction," said Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr., who also represents the district. "All of the neighbors were just appalled at the idea.

"I support wholeheartedly the idea of treatment of juvenile sex offenders, because so often

they've been abused themselves. But the community has spoken, and clearly they were against it."

The third council member from the district, Edward L. Reisinger, also said he would not ask for the zoning change.

"I'm not going to introduce anything like that, nor am I going to support it," he said. "No way."

Stukes said the process was flawed from the beginning.

"The fears of these kids got out on the table before any facts were known," he said. "Nobody handled this well."

A proposal to change the zoning could come from the mayor's office, but a spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke echoed the concerns that killed proposed facilities at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson and Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City.

"The administration didn't feel that the community had been adequately involved in the process," said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary. "We're not doing anything at this time to support placement of these juveniles at [Mountain Manor]. We have urged the state office to reconsider putting them at a state facility."

State officials have been trying to bring some juveniles treated at out-of-state facilities back to Maryland for the past five years, since the legislature passed a law requiring their return.

The number of juveniles housed out of state dropped from 680 in 1990 to 375 last year. But 51 "violent" sex offenders -- who cost the state at least $4 million a year to treat out of state -- have proved hardest to place.

"It's a delicate balance between the rights of these kids and the fears the community," said state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Baltimore County Republican, who pushed the bill through the legislature.

"It's just a matter of getting a provider at the right location, but unfortunately we have a concentrated population that are going to create fears anywhere."

Officials at Chesapeake Treatment Centers say they are determined to find a place for another facility, perhaps in a more rural area of the state.

"It's just unbelievable the hoops that we've had to jump through when really we are just answering a state need," said President Jonathan Sova, complaining of the bureaucratic and political pitfalls in the process. "People like us say, 'Yeah, we want these kids here in Maryland,' and then we kind of dangle in the wind."

Another company that proposed putting a facility at Taylor Manor Hospital -- Behavioral Health Management Associates in Ephrata, Pa. -- also hopes to find another location for its 26-bed treatment facility.

"This is just a political football," said Michael Beavers, president of The Terraces, the company's program for sex offenders in Pennsylvania. "This is a high-risk, high-need population, and that makes it a very emotional issue."

State officials say no space is available to house a treatment facility for juvenile sex offenders at any state-owned mental hospitals.

"A lot of people think we have half-empty facilities, and that's a misnomer," said Elizabeth Barnard of the Office of Planning and Capital Finance of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "We have nothing to offer."

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who championed the original bill to return the juveniles to Maryland, said the fight will continue.

Pub Date: 10/07/97

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