JIMMY PHELPS is a junkie, Michael Taylor's charged with attempted murder, Kevin McManus with driving a stolen car, Roland "Reno" Scott with selling crack. They have at least two things in common:
They've committed their latest crimes after graduating from the Savage Leadership Challenge, a state boot camp for juvenile delinquents in the woods of Garrett County, and every one of them has escaped penalty from Maryland's Juvenile Justice Department for not reporting to his probation officers and drug rehab classes.
Already, the fear they'd enter adult prisons is being realized.
In April, 39 days after leaving the boot camp, Taylor's hands are cuffed at Central Booking in downtown Baltimore. Attempted first-degree murder, six other adult charges.
"The defendant approached the victim while riding a small bike," the police report says. "The defendant stated, 'Give it up!' while brandishing an automatic handgun. As the defendant is pursuing the victim, he discharges gunshots, striking the victim several times in the upper torso. The victim falls to the ground."
Maybe nothing could have prevented Taylor -- 15 years old, fatherless, son of a woman who lost him to crack -- from being charged with such a crime.
But when Taylor left the Savage camp, he was still considered by the state to be dependent on drugs and at high risk of committing another crime.
Nevertheless, he was able to drop his probation quicker than a junkie drops a rock of crack during a police chase, never getting counseling, never getting in trouble for it.
No consequences, that is, until he's charged with shooting a man four times. Now, he's heading to trial; the charges could mean 25 years. If he's convicted, taxpayers will pick up the tab, almost $25,000 for every year in prison.
That's how it works for many kids the state's juvenile justice system returns to the streets: They're enrolled in after-care programs but immediately revert to running free, refusing to see their probation officers, blowing off drug and alcohol abuse classes, skipping town altogether, playing juvenile justice workers like they've set the rules.
Then, only if they're caught committing another crime, they're thrown back into Maryland's juvenile system or moved to adult courts -- at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
A Sun reporter and photographer followed 14 kids sent to the state's Savage Leadership Challenge in October of last year. They became Charlie Squad and stayed 20 weeks at the camp, where guards sought to change them with punches, pokes and slams. Nine months after their graduation, only one of the 14 has complied with his probation. And he has never been tested for drug use.
Ten of the 14 have tested positive for drugs or have been observed using them.
Eleven have been locked up -- two of them twice, two of them three times. Together, these 11 have picked up 52 new charges as of last week. Three have been charged as adults.
Five of the 14 have been cited for violating parole, but none has been picked up for that charge. One kid, who has not attended rehab or seen his probation officer since his release, walks the streets of Southwest Baltimore free as ever, with no warrant for his arrest.
A kid named best overall cadet by the TACs is missing. Officials have no idea where he is.
Gilberto de Jesus, head of Maryland's Department of Juvenile Justice, says kids on probation are punished if they test positive for drugs or ignore rehab class and their probation officers. He says they can be sent for treatment or locked in such juvenile detention centers as the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School or the Cheltenham Youth Center.
"When we make a determination that we're being jerked around by the kids, then we violate them," de Jesus says, using the department's jargon for charging a kid with breaking probation.
In real life, these kids are almost never violated. That's because there simply is nowhere to lock them up, nowhere to treat them -- and even the kids know it.
Maryland's juvenile detention centers are overflowing. The Hickey School in Baltimore County is filled every day. Cheltenham, in Prince George's County, is so packed that kids sleep on the floors. Designed to hold 169 kids, it had 258 in October.
On most days, almost 200 kids in Maryland are locked up as they wait for mental health treatment or drug rehab programs, because these programs are swamped, too.
Another 150 juvenile delinquents -- who have been sentenced to detention centers or programs -- are back in their neighborhoods, waiting for the juvenile justice agency to find any place at all for them.
So mere probation violators can't get tossed back into the system, acknowledges Jack Nadol, the deputy secretary for the department: "The truth is, we don't have any place to put them."
'Wants to get high'
Phelps, one of seven Baltimore kids in Charlie Squad, stops seeing his probation officer after six visits, quits drug rehab even though drugs have led to so many of his problems.