Smaller juvenile jails called answer to increased violence

Robinson offers plan to shrink large facilities

January 23, 2002|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

The high number of teens held at Maryland's three largest jails for delinquents has helped foster violence at those facilities, the state's juvenile justice secretary testified yesterday as he promised to reduce their size.

Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, who fell ill after his testimony, told legislators that smaller facilities with fewer than 50 beds will soon be scattered around the state.

They will house some of the teens being held in the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County and the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County. Each has held about 300 teens in recent years.

"Crowding does breed disruption and incidents," Robinson said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in the State House. "If you have a crowded facility, you're more likely to have incidents - to have assaults - than if you have smaller facilities. Smaller facilities is our approach for now and for the future."

Legislators have been concerned about Victor Cullen and Cheltenham because of reports that guards have assaulted teens there and at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County.

Robinson plans to raze Cheltenham and rebuild it to hold 48 teens in two units surrounded by high fencing and razor wire. Another 36 teens in need of temporary shelter would be held at a new facility outside the security fence.

Victor Cullen would be reduced to 48 beds reserved for delinquents who need drug rehabilitation and special education.

No plans for changes at Hickey were announced.

Robinson, who took office in December 1999, told legislators that dozens of teens now locked up would be better served in community-based programs and that officials are conducting assessments to determine which can be released.

The secretary's testimony lasted nearly two hours without a break, and, after 90 minutes, he was noticeably short of breath. Afterward, Robinson, who turned 75 on Jan.16, complained of tightness in his chest and was taken by ambulance to Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.

Juvenile justice spokesman Lee Towers said last night that Robinson, who has been suffering from flu-like symptoms for several days, would spend the night at the hospital for observation.

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