Robinson promises full agency reform

Youth advocates doubt Juvenile Justice to get enough money for job

January 19, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson told a mostly supportive panel of lawmakers yesterday that he intends to fully reform his bruised agency, but some youth advocates doubted he would have the money to match his ambitions.

Robinson also told the House Judiciary and Appropriations committees that he plans to reduce the population at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County by about 100 - to 156 - by June.

The secretary had previously called for razing Cheltenham, which has been widely criticized for its crowding and substandard conditions. Yesterday, he repeated his wish to see it closed, but said it would take time.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening unveiled a budget this week proposing an additional $11 million for the Department of Juvenile Justice next year, a much smaller amount than the $20 million increase it received this year.

Reform advocates were not impressed by the proposed 7 percent increase. "We do not see this budget as a budget that reflects reform," said Heather Ford, juvenile justice director for Advocates for Children and Youth.

James P. McComb, chairman of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, found Robinson's reform philosophy encouraging and frustrating. "You can see the heads nodding," he said. "But the money's not in the budget to implement the rhetoric."

Advocates and some lawmakers also questioned where the department's money will go. Many would like to see less spent maintaining the large juvenile jails and more on smaller, community-based programs focused on treatment, for which the governor is offering an additional $3.5 million.

While lawmakers praised Robinson for his progress overhauling a department crippled by scandal when he took it over in December 1999, several legislators asked for more information on his plans.

"Give us numbers and dates, and then we can talk," Del. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, said after the briefing.

Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Montgomery Democrat, asked skeptically whether she should clear her bookshelf of all the department's other plans and proposals.

"Yes," Robinson said, "you should clear your bookshelf."

Kopp said she has not studied the proposed budget but is not expecting a windfall. "To some extent, we understand that changes have to be phased in," she said, "but I believe there is a history of underfunding" the department.

Robinson outlined several improvements and said all are funded in the budget proposal, including a new Office of Professional Responsibility and Accountability, 24 more aftercare workers and increased mental health services.

He announced a three-year project with the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and several state agencies to improve mental health, drug, and educational screening of juveniles.

In response to funding concerns, he said: "There will be additional, supplemental requests."

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

11 a.m. Senate meets, Senate chamber.

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

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