Hickey plan faces foes in community Intensive treatment of offenders and teens planned at school

'Behind the fence' centers

Opposition says proposal breaks promise from state

December 06, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Faced with a shortage of facilities that offer specialized help for juvenile offenders, the state Department of Juvenile Justice will add two intensive-treatment centers for sex offenders and severely emotionally disturbed adolescents at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County.

The plan -- published without fanfare last month -- has angered child advocates and local residents who say the state is breaking a long-standing promise not to use Hickey for the treatment of such offenders.

"Why don't you just put the Statue of Liberty out there and say, 'Give me everybody, give me your mental health kids, your sex offenders, everybody'?" said Pat Hanges, a retired police officer who works with Hickey offenders.

"After all these meetings, after all these years, the best they could come up with was a mental health unit behind the fence at Hickey? We can build two stadiums, but we can't build a mental health center for kids?"

The answer, at least for now, appears to be no.

"Nobody wants one of those facilities and nobody wants one of those kids," said Walter G. R. Wirsching of the Department of Juvenile Justice. "I would much rather have seen the facilities at another location. It was very disappointing when we couldn't locate one outside of Hickey."

Juvenile sex offenders and severely emotionally disturbed youths have been among Hickey's population for years, but they have not received the kind of clinical, intensive treatment that would be provided by residential treatment centers, Wirsching said.

The request for proposal issued by the state calls for two residential treatment centers in two existing cottages in the secured area (informally referred to as "behind the fence") at Hickey. There would be 26 or 27 beds in the sexual offender unit, Wirsching said, and 24 beds in the unit for emotionally disturbed children.

Each unit is expected to cost about $2.6 million a year to operate, Wirsching said. The units will not increase the population of Hickey, one of Maryland's biggest facilities for youthful offenders with about 300 youths detained.

Previous efforts to locate residential treatment centers at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Baltimore County and Taylor Manor in Howard County crumbled under strong local opposition.

Hickey is not an ideal site, but the treatment centers will provide a better way of dealing with the existing population there, Wirsching and others say.

Some residents said the state should have been able to do better.

"I'm outraged that they're doing this," said Betty Brownell, who lives near the Cub Hill facility. "I think it's such a complete change of policy that the community is entitled to a public meeting."

"This thing is in breach of everything that the state has promised the neighborhood over the last 20 years," said Ed L. Blanton Jr., who headed a citizens advisory committee at Hickey set up by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in the 1980s when the school, then operated by the state, was troubled by poor management and frequent escapes.

Blanton has asked the state to reinstate the advisory committee, which was disbanded in the early 1990s.

Supporters of the centers say sex offenders and emotionally disturbed children have been at Hickey virtually since it opened as a House of Refuge in 1850.

"Nobody's breaking any promises," said state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Democrat whose 8th District includes the Hickey School. "There are no new kids coming to Hickey. These are kids that are at Hickey."

"The residential treatment center would be new," said Wirsching. "But sex offenders would not be new at the Hickey school. There's a cottage at Hickey now for sex offenders."

Bromwell and Wirsching said the residential treatment centers would isolate emotionally disturbed youths and sexual offenders and provide specialized clinical help. Equally important, Bromwell said, the centers would make it possible for the state to tap federal Medicare funds to help pay for treatment.

Since 1993, the school has been operated by YSI Inc., a private company under a five-year contract with the Department of Juvenile Justice. That contract is up for bid, and the two treatment centers are described in the request for bids released in early November.

The request indicates that different vendors may be chosen to operate the main Hickey campus and the two residential treatment centers.

"The biggest change will be, you'll have two or three different contractors out here that are operating programs on the Hickey campus," said Col. George T. Hudgens, a retired Army officer and the school's executive director.

Hudgens, a YSI employee, said the company would bid on the main Hickey contract, but had not decided if it would seek to run the two residential treatment centers.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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