A judge ordered state officials to bring about two dozen juvenile delinquents from three Western Maryland boot camps into his Baltimore courtroom this morning to investigate whether guards are assaulting them and whether they should be moved to other facilities or released.
Martin P. Welch, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge, said yesterday that he is acting as a result of a Sun series this week and wants to talk directly to delinquents sent to the camps by him and other Baltimore judges.
The series reported that guards at at least one of the camps routinely assault delinquents, slamming them to the ground, punching them and kicking them, sometimes while the youths are shackled.
"The court, in light of the newspaper reports, would like to make some independent determination as to whether these are appropriate places to send kids," Welch said in an interview.
He said he will question the delinquents to see how they have been treated since arriving at the Savage Leadership Challenge, Backbone Leadership Challenge and Mountain Manor Leadership Challenge, the three camps in Garrett County.
The records of the delinquents, including their criminal records, are not public. But Baltimore delinquents sent to the camps typically have been charged with offenses that would be considered felonies if they were adults. Most of the crimes are drug-related.
Welch ordered the hearings yesterday, spinning the state Department of Juvenile Justice into action to transport the delinquents 150 miles to Baltimore and to help the city's public defender's office notify parents about the hearings.
The judge ordered all the Baltimore City delinquents currently at the camps to appear before him. He has jurisdiction only over the city's delinquents. It was unclear yesterday where the delinquents would be sent if he determines they are being assaulted and the camps are inappropriate places for them. Maryland's juvenile detention facilities are over capacity.
He could return some of the delinquents to their homes, but because of the short notice of the hearings, many of the parents could not be notified yesterday.
In Maryland's juvenile system, judges determine which type of facility the delinquents are sent to but cannot order them sent to specific institutions. Judges can review cases at any time to determine whether delinquents should remain in a particular type of facility, be moved elsewhere or be released.
Jim McComb, chairman of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, said he is relieved that Welch is concerned about the delinquents at the camps but he fears guards there will intimidate them into lying about their treatment.
"It's happened before," he said. "If I was a kid from one of those camps, and I thought I had to go back to one of those camps, I'd think hard about what I'm going to say."
McComb said the judge should tell the delinquents that questions about their treatment have been raised and that they will be protected if they speak honestly.
Gilberto de Jesus, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, said through a spokesman he had no comment on the judge's move.
In another development yesterday, former public safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, named Wednesday by the governor to head a seven-member team to examine the juvenile camps, said he was discouraged by his first day reviewing state records.
"I don't like what I'm seeing," said Robinson. "I'm not pleased with what I've examined so far."
Robinson would not provide details of documents he reviewed yesterday but said they dealt with procedures and policies at the camps, including policies for handling complaints of abuse against teen-agers in state care.
Robinson and task force member Robert L. McWhorter, commander of the state's boot camp prison for adults in Jessup, spent the day reviewing the records in the office of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has been assigned responsibility for justice issues by the governor.
The seven members of the task force were scheduled to meet today in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Baltimore office, Robinson said.
Also yesterday, Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, wrote to Glendening about the assaults on delinquents in the camps.
It said that such treatment constitutes violations not only of state and federal law but international human rights standards, including the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Amnesty International requested reports from three of the five state-level investigations of the Department of Juvenile Justice that are under way.