2 teens escape Hickey school

Offenders, 15 and 17, flee detention center run by private firm

Third incident in week

July 03, 1999|By Timothy B. Wheeler and Michael Dresser | Timothy B. Wheeler and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Two teen-agers have escaped from the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County, the third security breach at one of the state's privately run juvenile detention centers in the past week.

State police say the pair, 17 and 15 years old, kicked out a window screen in the room they shared and squeezed through a pad-locked gate shortly before midnight Thursday.

They were seen yesterday in Baltimore, police said, but had not been apprehended as of last night.

Authorities refused to identify the youths or say what offenses had prompted their assignment to Hickey.

The latest escape, coming on the heels of the rape June 25 of a female employee at Hickey and the escape Sunday of three youths from the Victor Cullen Academy in Frederick County, drew stern talk from the Glendening administration and calls from legislators for hearings.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who oversees criminal justice matters for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the administration has told Youth Services International Inc., the private contractor running both Hickey and Cullen, that the company is "on very thin ice."

"We are reviewing what options we have under the existing contract, and if they do not move immediately and aggressively to correct the problems, we will exercise our options," Townsend said.

She said the options could include fines, withholding of payments and termination of the contract.

Youth Services International, a subsidiary of Florida-based Correctional Services Corp., has a five-year, $78 million contract to operate Hickey and Cullen, the state's maximum-security detention centers for juvenile delinquents.

The contract was awarded in April.

James Irving, president of YSI, defended his firm's management of the centers and blamed the latest escape on inadequate security equipment at Hickey, which he said is the state's responsibility.

"I think Hickey's got a good staff, but basically it's an old facility," Irving said.

"We've got to go through and do a hardware check."

State police from the Golden Ring barracks were called to Hickey shortly after 1 a.m. yesterday, more than an hour after the two youths had triggered an alarm by approaching the fence ringing the center's maximum-security area.

Irving said Hickey staff delayed calling police until they had verified that the youths were missing and had apparently escaped the grounds.

The youths, one from Baltimore and the other from Carroll County, were last seen in their room during a routine bed check around 11: 30 p.m., according to authorities.

The fence alarm was triggered about 15 minutes later, prompting a fresh head count of the center's 355 detainees that revealed the pair missing.

The teens apparently managed to pry a little-used, padlocked fire gate open enough to squeeze through, Irving said.

Gilberto de Jesus, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, visited Hickey yesterday and demanded prompt corrective action, according to the agency's spokesman, Bob Kannenberg.

"We have contingency plans in place to run all of our contract facilities ourselves if necessary, and we're reviewing our contingency plan for Hickey right now," de Jesus said in a statement issued by Kannenberg.

The teens apparently escaped from their locked room by kicking out or tearing loose a screen on their window.

State officials were aware that the window screens were easily removed and were in the process of replacing them, Kannenberg said. About two-thirds of the windows have been upgraded, he said, but not the window in the teens' room.

"The kids, sure they tore a screen, but there should have been supervision so they didn't have time," he said.

The department has called for YSI to patrol the fence on foot and in a vehicle, he said.

This is the second escape from Hickey since March, according to YSI's Irving, but on June 25 an even more serious security lapse occurred.

A female employee was raped that day by a 16-year-old Baltimore youth left unguarded while doing kitchen cleanup. Police have charged Felix Fitzgerald as an adult with first-degree rape and first-degree assault.

Two days later, three juveniles from Baltimore escaped from the Cullen Academy in Sabillasville, also by prying open security screens on two dormitory windows. They stole an academy car and fled.

None has been recaptured.

De Jesus demanded an investigation into security measures at both centers after those incidents. A report is due from YSI early next week, but his spokesman said security has already been tightened at Cullen.

Additional locks were put on the fire gate at Hickey yesterday.

The escape from Hickey was news yesterday afternoon to some residents of the Cub Hill area near the school, even though they are supposed to be notified promptly by telephone.

"In the past, we've been called a couple times when there's a breakout, but we didn't hear anything this time," said Edwin Gluth, 47, who has lived a half-mile from the school for 11 years.

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