Young lives return to a vortex of crime

Juveniles: Months after the failures of Maryland's juvenile justice system were revealed, the state remains indifferent to the cadets of Charlie Squad.

Charlie Squad

July 16, 2000|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Darrell Shanklin and his boys pressed a strong shiny blade to the pizza man's jumpy Adam's apple, ready to slash a throat for $30 and a pack of Newport 100s.

That's why Shanklin's back in jail, this time on adult charges.

No problem. He figures he'll just rat out the thugs arrested with him, cut a deal with prosecutors, strip off his orange prison jumpsuit and waltz out of jail. He'll do a year, five at most. By then, he'll be old enough to drink alcohol without sneaking it.

Shanklin was part of Charlie Squad, 14 teen-aged delinquents assaulted repeatedly by guards at a state-run boot camp in Western Maryland and then released last year with promises of "maximum supervised probation" by the state's Department of Juvenile Justice.

The promises were never kept, and the results have been predictable: more drug dealing, more drug use, more victims, more arrests.

The stories of their failings and abuse, told over four days in The Sun in December, illustrated the utter inadequacies of Maryland's probation programs for delinquents and upended the juvenile justice agency.

Top state officials quickly shut down the state's three boot camps for juveniles and promised drastic changes - giving child advocates the first real hope in decades for reform.

But almost seven months after those promises echoed from Annapolis, the agency has done little or nothing to help Shanklin and most of the other Charlie Squad "cadets," let alone carry out the changes.

Juvenile justice officials have yet to even contact many of the kids, including the most desperate of them, those pictured in the newspaper shooting up with dirty needles, using and dealing drugs.

"At the absolute very minimum, you think they would've gone after kids like that, publicly identified," says Jann Jackson, executive director of Maryland Advocates for Children and Youth.

"I've asked a lot of people about some justice for these kids who sparked all this discussion in the first place, and I've gotten no answers. If they're not going to be compensated, at least how about some services for them? I've gotten no answers about that, either."

Lost in the system

Since their release from boot camp in March, not one of the 14 Charlie Squad cadets has lived up to the terms of his probation.

Juvenile justice officials have lost complete track of seven of the them since December. They closed one of those cases, although the teen never lived up to terms of his probation. Family members say they don't know where he is.

When the series was published, the kids had been back on the streets nine months. In that time, 11 of 14 had gotten into trouble again.

And since the official promises of reforms in December, all but one of them have been arrested at least one more time - some of them three, four and five times since December - on charges as serious as auto theft, assault, armed robbery and attempted murder.

Like Shanklin, eight of these 12 have been picked up adult charges - graduating to the adult justice system that costs Maryland taxpayers $779 million a year.

The kid who hasn't been jailed? He tested positive for drugs in Charles County, was told by authorities not to use them any more and was sent home.

A Baltimore kid named Christopher Leight is more typical. He had been missing since one month after his release. No warrant was issued for him. No official looked for him.

This month, he was finally taken into custody - only after being charged, as an adult, with dealing drugs while packing a handgun. He now sits in a city jail.

So the teens make their own way, cutting deals after being tossed in jail, continuing their drug use, dope slinging, all kinds of crimes - all the while supposedly still on probation, or under state control.

And Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and new Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson now refuse to discuss Charlie Squad at all.

On their own

If a Charlie Squad cadet like Jimmy Phelps - photographed plunging heroin into his arm - is on the path to recovering from his addiction, he's going it entirely on his own. The state agency that arranged for him to be beat up repeatedly for 20 weeks last year has offered no help or sign of concern.

After a photo was published of him with a needle in his arm, no one from the state did anything to help him or to punish him - even though he was still on probation.

As far as juvenile justice officials know, he's still wandering with the zombies in Southwest Baltimore, scratching from the dope, looking for his next fix.

But that's not the case. In a suburb of Baltimore these days, Phelps is getting ready for work.

He once looked as though he would never make it, in jail or out. Just a month after boot camp, after ignoring the terms of his probation with no penalty, he became hooked on heroin, getting the dope wherever he could find it, shooting up with any needle around, dirty or not.

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