State may shut Victor Cullen youth jail

Agency audit assails operation of center in Frederick County

November 22, 2001|By Michael Scarcella | Michael Scarcella,SUN STAFF

The state warned yesterday that it might shut down Victor Cullen Center, a juvenile jail in Frederick County, because of contractual failures by the private company that operates the facility.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in a statement released yesterday, said she has asked the state Department of Juvenile Justice to send a 24-hour monitoring team to the center for delinquent boys in rural Sabillasville.

She also has ordered the department to prepare an operational plan by the end of the year, a strategy that could include closing the institution.

Townsend, in a note to Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, said the center - designed to house more than 200 offenders - lacks adequate security, teaching staff, food service and recreation workers.

The deficiencies were revealed in an audit conducted in August by the department.

The audit concluded that the contractor - Youth Services International, a division of Florida-based Correctional Services Corp. - was not meeting "staffing levels required by the contract," "failed to sufficiently provide mental health services" and, among other items, "the contractor has too many vacant positions."

Last year, at least four guards from Victor Cullen were charged with assaulting juveniles and two others were charged with sexually abusing youths at the center. At least six guards have been fired this year after allegations of physical assaults.

A spokeswoman for the department said in an interview last night that Youth Services has demonstrated failure to meet contractual obligations to shape up after the audit.

"We've been monitoring, and we came to the conclusion that conditions were not improving, when the contractor said they would," said spokeswoman Laura Townsend, who is not related to the lieutenant governor.

Youth Services was assessed $600,000 in penalties after the audit, which the state ordered after the escape of several inmates in an 18-month period.

In her letter to Robinson, the lieutenant governor expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which Youth Services is running the facility.

"I have concluded that immediate action is required and that major long-term changes are necessary," she wrote. "The state will no longer tolerate inadequate management of the facility and the failure to provide required services to youth."

Townsend directed Robinson to submit recommendations by Dec. 31 on whether to terminate the existing contract with Youth Services, which expires in June; seek a new private company; or close Victor Cullen.

Closing sought

Heather A. Ford, director of the state Juvenile Justice Coalition, an advocacy organization pushing reform of the juvenile justice system, said last night that she hopes for its closing.

Ford said the state must move away from facilities such as Victor Cullen and turn to smaller, more intensive-care options.

"We are advocating to close Victor Cullen," said Ford, whose organization is composed of lawyers, social workers and other professionals. "We applaud the lieutenant governor in her efforts to send a team out there to look at the problems."

`Draconian'

Ford called institutions such as Victor Cullen "Draconian," and said they often function as "crime schools," where administrators become mired in disciplinary issues and can't adequately address teaching and rehabilitation.

"We don't see any compromises," Ford said of Victor Cullen Center. "We want the institution closed."

Youth Services also operates the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for juvenile offenders in Cub Hill, Baltimore County, for the state.

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