3 juveniles escape from Cullen facility

Youths are accused of prying screens off windows, taking car

Second incident in 48 hours

Investigations begin after rape at Hickey school, breakout

June 28, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Three Baltimore youths escaped early yesterday from a Frederick County juvenile detention facility in the second breach of security to be reported in fewer than 48 hours at state-owned centers run by Youth Services International Inc., a private contractor.

The youths escaped from one of 10 single-story residential buildings at the Victor Cullen Academy in Sabillasville by prying open the security screens on two dormitory windows, according to Bob Kannenberg, spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice. They apparently left the grounds in a stolen academy car, he said.

"The bottom line is, the three youths that [escaped] should not have been unsupervised long enough to pry open the security screens," Kannenberg said. "We will be reviewing the apparent lapse in supervision, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken by YSI."

The escape follows a rape Friday evening of a female employee at Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Cub Hill, Baltimore County, by an offender who slipped away from his job in the campus cafeteria undetected.

Kannenberg attributed both incidents to a lack of supervision.

Officials at the Cullen academy ordered a lockdown yesterday "pending further review by the administration," Kannenberg said. All visits were canceled and the 222 youths housed at the facility were being closely guarded in the cafeteria and other common areas on campus. The youths were not allowed into their dormitories except to sleep, he said.

Gilberto de Jesus, Maryland's secretary of juvenile justice, said he was "very concerned" about the incidents and ordered an investigation yesterday into all security measures in place at the two facilities.

"It is critical that the department's trained security personnel work with Youth Services to remedy all deficiencies that may exist," de Jesus said.

Youth Services International, which was recently acquired by the Florida-based Correctional Services Corp., is also conducting a review, Kannenberg said.

Efforts to reach company officials were unsuccessful yesterday, but Hickey's deputy director, Michael Higgins, a YSI employee, said Saturday his staff would be retrained.

De Jesus met Saturday with officials at the Hickey school and is expected to meet today with Kerry Knott, Cullen's executive director. Knott was out of town yesterday and could not be reached.

The three youths who escaped, like many of the juveniles at the Cullen academy, each had his own room. Two escaped through a window of one room and the third went out the window of another room, Kannenberg said.

The three youths allegedly stole a 1992 dark blue Dodge Dynasty and are believed to be in Baltimore, where they lived before arriving at the academy, state police said.

They were discovered missing about 7 a.m., Kannenberg said. State police were called shortly after, and troopers responded to the academy about 8: 30 a.m.

Kannenberg refused to release the names of the escapees or divulge why they were sent to Cullen, saying state law prohibits him from disclosing information about juvenile offenders.

In the Hickey rape case, Felix Fitzgerald, 16, whose last known address was the 400 block of E. Biddle St. in Baltimore, is being held without bond at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson, state police said.

Fitzgerald was charged as an adult with first-degree assault and a first-degree sex offense. He was one of 355 juvenile delinquents housed at Hickey. Some of the youths at Hickey are sex offenders and emotionally disturbed, but Higgins said Fitzgerald was not at the facility for a sex crime. He re- fused to say why the teen-ager was sent to Hickey.

The investigations into the incidents at Hickey and Cullen were launched days after state officials were directed to study disparities in mental treatment and jail time meted out for white and black juvenile offenders.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend last week ordered top officials at Maryland's juvenile justice and mental health agencies to figure out why a much higher percentage of black mentally ill juvenile delinquents than white ones are sentenced to jail instead of treatment.

Her mandate came on the heels of a report in Friday's editions of The Sun, which showed that while many white offenders are sent to residential treatment centers, most blacks are sentenced to the Hickey school or Cullen academy, which lack treatment.

Youth Services International employs about 550 in Maryland and operates 27 juvenile correctional facilities nationwide. It also runs nonresidential programs in 13 states, serving about 3,200 juveniles.

After it was acquired in March by Correctional Services Corp. of Sarasota, Fla., the company continued normal operations, keeping its name and retaining most of its employees.

When acquisition plans were announced last year, officials with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice said they did not believe it would affect operations at the Hickey school or Cullen academy.

Correctional Services has made few administrative changes and appointed James Irving president of Youth Services last month. He replaced Timothy P. Cole, who resigned in the wake of falling profits.

Irving has more than 30 years of experience in juvenile justice. Before joining Correctional Services Corp. in 1996, he was deputy director of the juvenile division for the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Irving was expected to arrive in Baltimore yesterday to visit the Youth Services International facilities and could not be reached for comment.

Correctional Services Corp. has been named as a defendant in at least two lawsuits in other states that allege abuse by guards and negligence.

Company officials have denied any wrongdoing and said the lawsuits have no merit.

Pub Date: 6/28/99

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