State fails to end juvenile jail assaults

Glendening-Townsend: Shameful abuses suggest lack of urgency, absence of accountability.

November 27, 2001

A FORM OF state-sanctioned violence continues in Maryland's system of juvenile justice.

Solemn promises to root it out have not been kept. Failure to fire offenders may well condone criminal behavior by men who shouldn't be prison guards.

Broken bones, chokings and other physical abuse uncovered by Sun reporter Todd Richissin -- from the state's own documents -- all suggest a system out of control.

Still.

Boot camps for juvenile offenders were closed two years ago amid reports that guards routinely attacked their charges. High level promises of remediation followed:

"Violence will not be tolerated," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in a joint statement.

But violence continues. Violence has been tolerated -- and violence has been covered up in some cases.

Lieutenant Governor Townsend has once again declared herself "sickened" and "disheartened."

She called this behavior "unacceptable," and she is right. But words are only words.

When will effective action be taken? As the Richissin report says, the roots of the problem are well-known: Guards who are poorly paid and receive little formal training; inmates in need of help -- one quarter of whom suffer from severe mental illness but are left virtually untreated even as they mutilate themselves.

Mrs. Townsend might want to consider techniques employed in New York at the much larger and more violent Riker's Island prison. There, a hands-on police commissioner, Paul Kerik, brought order to a penal colony of 16,000 gang-dominated inmates by demanding better performance by wardens who in turn made demands on guards and so on.

Ms. Townsend plans to run for governor next year. She could have a tough time using the juvenile justice sysem as proof of her management acumen.

It's late -- but perhaps not too late -- for a turnaround.

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