Senate asked to OK bigger budget for Juvenile Justice

Robinson says 12.3% rise needed to overhaul agency

March 03, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Describing his overhaul of the state's troubled Department of Juvenile Justice as a "massive undertaking," acting Secretary Bishop L. Robinson urged senators yesterday to approve the agency's proposed double-digit budget increase without significant cuts.

"It's going to cost some money. It's not cheap," Robinson told a Senate Budget subcommittee.

Robinson, the longtime Annapolis veteran who returned to government service after Gov. Parris N. Glendening fired Secretary Gilberto de Jesus in December, mounted a vigorous defense of the department's proposed budget, which calls for a 12.3 percent spending jump to $156 million.

The governor proposed the sizable increase in the wake of revelations of abuses in the department's boot camp programs, especially lapses in its after-care programs that left juveniles essentially unsupervised after their release from residential programs.

Legislative analysts have proposed a series of cuts that would reduce the increase to 10.2 percent. Robinson said he could accept about $1 million in reductions but objected to additional proposed cuts of $1.85 million.

One of the cuts he could not accept would delay proposed upgrades in department jobs that would give workers a larger raise than the general state pay increase. Another would delay expanding a program that puts juvenile probation officers into schools with a significant population of juvenile offenders -- a pet project of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Robinson said the job upgrades are needed to attract capable counselors and other employees to work at the department's juvenile facilities, where some of the starting salaries are less than $20,000 a year.

"How do you recruit and what do you end up with at $19,000 a year?" Robinson said. "I can't hire and retain people at the current wages."

The former secretary of public safety also fought analysts' recommended cut of funds for expansion of the Townsend-backed Spotlight on Schools program.

"I can't agree with an $850,000 cut in the best program in the system," Robinson told the panel.

His plea comes at a time when budget subcommittees are frantically looking for fat they can squeeze out of the governor's budget to bring it within spending guidelines.

At one point, subcommittee Chairwoman Gloria G. Lawlah pleaded with Robinson to suggest another cut the panel could make in place of one he disputed.

"I don't have another cut," Robinson told the Prince George's County Democrat.

The acting secretary played deftly on the openly expressed hope of many legislators that he would stay as the permanent secretary. "We want you to stay. We don't want to drive you away," Lawlah told him.

Robinson told the panel that he has concluded that "the missing piece" in the department's programs is long-term, community-based treatment. He said he expects the governor to propose an additional $1.5 million in spending in next year's budget to carry out the recommendations of a team that studied the department's after-care programs.

Advocates said they were delighted at Robinson's advocacy for a department that fared poorly in last year's budget battle.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights:

Senate meets. 11 a.m. Senate chamber.

House of Delegates meets. 11 a.m. House chamber.

House Appropriations Committee hearing on HB 745, to authorize the Baltimore school board to issue bonds for school construction. 1 p.m. House office building, Room 130.

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