Still clueless on kid criminals

Charlie Squad: Released juvenile delinquents continue to languish without proper state supervision.

July 19, 2000

IT SEEMS like a no-brainer.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice got panned nationwide last year for beating 14 delinquent teens at a boot camp and then reneging on promises of supervised parole after the kids were released.

Wouldn't you think officials' response would have included tracking down the 14 teens to make sure they didn't inspire further embarrassing headlines?

Well, think again.

Some of the kids are back in the news for doing stick-ups, dealing drugs and generally raising hell. The few who went straight? They're doing it on their own. State officials don't even seem to know of their whereabouts.

Even worse, no state officials will talk about Charlie Squad. Most notably among them is Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, an aspiring state chief executive who has made juvenile justice one of her pet issues.

Without question, something's terribly awry here.

The plight of 14 teens doesn't tell the entire story of juvenile justice reform in Maryland. But it does say something about the level of dysfunction that persists in the juvenile justice department.

After-care, or follow-up, is perhaps the most important function in the juvenile justice system. It's a staple, and without it, the whole effort to reform delinquents is a cruel joke -- sort of like plucking a child from traffic on one street and then letting him out of the car in the middle of another.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Ms. Townsend seemed to understand that when they set out to fix juvenile justice last year. They hired well-respected Bishop Robinson to run the department, then told the legislature to back off its juvenile justice imperatives so he could be free to fix things.

But here's the reality today: Sun reporter Todd Richissin knows more about these kids and their criminal doings than the juvenile justice department does.

The governor and the ambitious Ms. Townsend have no reasonable excuse for that truth. They have every reason now -- including the fear of future damaging headlines -- to rededicate themselves to deliver on their promises to help juvenile delinquents after they leave state custody.

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