Youth agency funds sought

Glendening asks $18 million more for juvenile justice reform

Crowding, after-care focus

Overhaul may include closing boot camps for delinquents

January 15, 2000|By Michael Dresser and Todd Richissin | Michael Dresser and Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Stung by embarrassing state juvenile justice failures, Gov. Parris N. Glendening will propose a significant budget increase next week to help the agency relieve crowded youth facilities and increase supervision of delinquents after detention.

The extra money would go toward an extensive revamping of the agency as designed by a task force appointed by the governor and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. That overhaul could include a permanent end to Maryland's boot camps, programs that Townsend for the first time publicly declined to support yesterday.

Glendening will ask the legislature to approve an increase of $18 million -- almost 14 percent -- in the agency's operating budget for next year. That would bring the agency's overall budget to about $147 million.

The department's proposed budget increase is about twice what most other state agencies can expect this year.

Townsend, who oversees juvenile justice and other crime issues for the governor, said the money would be used to "build on the success we've already had." She said juvenile crime, as measured by arrests, has declined 22 percent over the past two years.

Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said she was pleased with the proposed budget increase, especially an additional $7 million for placing detained youths in residential treatment programs, which would reduce crowding throughout the juvenile justice system. Some facilities are so crowded that youths often sleep on the floor. "Everyone agrees we have an unprecedented opportunity to transform the department this year," Jackson said.

David Altschuler, a professor at the John Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies who is considered a national leader in after-care programs, said that unless the money is funneled to the right programs, the increase in funding won't help. "The programming is more important than the money," he said.

Townsend has come under fire for the department's failures, but word of the budget increase is beginning to mute criticism from advocates, who met with her this week. "We were encouraged by her openness and the feeling that she was stepping up," Jackson said.

Officials acknowledge that the state has been slow to deal with severe crowding in the state's youth detention facilities. The results have been especially dire at the Cheltenham Youth Center in Prince George's County.

The department has been under scrutiny since last month, when The Sun reported that guards at one of its three boot camps in Garrett County were routinely beating delinquents. The newspaper also documented the state's failure to provide adequate supervision of juveniles after their release from the camps.

That report and a hastily convened state task force's conclusion that the abuses were part of a pattern led to the firing of seven guards, the suspension of the camps, state criminal and FBI civil rights probes, and the ouster of five department executives, including Secretary Gilberto de Jesus. A search has begun to replace acting Secretary Bishop L. Robinson.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said she believes lawmakers are prepared to allocate the money the department needs if the governor can find a credible secretary. "I would be reluctant to approve resources for a department that's leaderless," the Baltimore Democrat said.

The administration's budget proposal includes $1 million to hire 33 counselors in after-care programs.

Adam Gelb, Townsend's chief adviser on crime issues, said the $1 million is a minimum that will be used to carry out the recommendations of a task force looking into the department's after-care programs. He expects additional requests for juvenile justice funds in the supplemental budget coming later in the legislative session.

Among the other initiatives included in the proposed budget increase:

$1.6 million that could be used to set up a drug rehabilitation program at the former Meadow Mountain boot camp in Garrett County.

$1.5 million more for mental health treatment, youth counseling and substance abuse programs.

$1 million to expand Spotlight on Schools, a Townsend program that places probation officers in schools. The number of schools would expand from 86 to 126.

$500,000 for drug testing, a component of after-care. That item would restore funds cut from the governor's budget by lawmakers last year.

The budget also calls for $990,000 to give raises to juvenile probation officers and guards. The raises, which would come on top of the 4 percent increase negotiated by state employee unions, would take maximum salaries of starting probation officers to $25,942 and guards to $22,740.

Townsend said yesterday that she was holding meetings to determine the fate of the three boot camps.

"They won't be called boot camps," she said. She declined to say whether they will reopen with a military component, saying it is too early to determine that.

Her remarks were in sharp contrast to ones last month, when she and Glendening said they had faith in the boot camp concept and hoped to reopen the camps without the violence.

The task force appointed by Glendening and Townsend to fix the state's care system for released delinquents decided yesterday to conduct an audit to determine, among other issues, what happens to released delinquents in probation programs.

In its series last month, The Sun found that many delinquents skip the terms of their probation with no consequences from the agency. Advocates for children have argued for years that teens are often put into inappropriate programs.

"Clearly, the assessment of current practices at the department is going to require a great deal of work," said Bart Lubow, a senior associate with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a member of the task force.

The task force is to report to the governor and lieutenant governor at the end of next month.

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