Task force told of trouble tracking released delinquents

Official in charge says lack of supervisors to review cases hinders after care

January 29, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The state official in charge of the system that monitors juvenile delinquents after they leave Maryland institutions said yesterday that tracking the youths has been hampered by a shortage of supervisors.

"You will see case reviews are not done uniformly across the state," Harry Langmead, assistant secretary for field operations at Maryland's Department of Juvenile Justice, told a state task force that is trying to improve the "after care" system.

In a written report to the task force, Langmead said that, while he has been able to hire a number of new case managers for after care in recent years, he wasn't allowed to hire more supervisors to review how they were handling their cases.

"The result has been that not all supervisors are able to meet the policy requirement for formal case reviews," he wrote.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed the task force after a Sun series in December found the state lost track of youths who graduated from the Savage Leadership Challenge, a boot camp in Garrett County, despite promising to aggressively monitor them as they returned to their communities.

Glendening closed Savage and halted the military-style regimen at two other Western Maryland boot camps after the publishing of the series, which also documented assaults on youths at Savage by their guards. Former juvenile justice secretary Gilberto de Jesus and four aides have since resigned or been fired.

The task force, made up of professors, lawyers, legislators and criminologists, has until Feb. 28 to make recommendations on improving the after-care system.

Yesterday, the group also heard from private and nonprofit providers of after-care to Maryland youths -- learning that no matter how extensive after-care is, it still can't always keep a delinquent from going astray again.

The Choice Programs, run through the Shriver Center at the University of Baltimore, provide round-the-clock after care for 435 Maryland youths.

Workers have low caseloads -- about seven youths each. For six months, young offenders get three to five visits a day from a worker who helps with counseling and job training or just provides a sympathetic ear in the middle of a chaotic family or bad neighborhood.

Even so, the program -- which has been hailed as a national model -- had 38 percent of its youths finish last year with a "negative" rating, meaning spotty compliance with after-care contracts and a possible return to crime.

Dr. John S. Martello, UMBC vice provost for community partnerships and founder of the program, said the state agency had sometimes been difficult to deal with in helping Choice carry out its mission. "There's been inconsistent support, you might say, for this particular approach."

Deb Yates, program director of the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Marriottsville, a facility for Maryland delinquents run by the North American Family Institute Inc., echoed Martello.

For example, Yates said, the center recently lost state funding for one of two "respite" spaces it kept for after-care youths who needed to return -- sometimes just for a night -- to escape a crisis at home or temptation on the street.

"We don't feel like partners," she said. "I would receive, really, edicts from headquarters."

Yates, Martello and other providers also said the state needed to work more with families of kids in trouble -- addressing their problems along with youths' crimes. Many times, they said, workers know a lot about those families, but don't collaborate.

"The state knows a lot of this information," said Daniel Moylan, a retired Washington County Circuit judge who is chairing the after-care task force. "But it doesn't know it when it comes to delinquent kids."

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