Juvenile justice official resigns

Lesansky had been in charge of reports later found incorrect

February 05, 2002|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

A top official with the Department of Juvenile Justice has resigned after disclosures that he twice understated the number of assaults against teens at Maryland's juvenile jails, the agency announced yesterday.

Henry R. Lesansky is on leave until Feb. 18, when his resignation will take effect, according to an agency spokesman.

Lesansky had been responsible for overseeing investigations of conditions at the jails, including reports of guards assaulting teens. His departure comes after a series of embarrassments for the department and its secretary, Bishop L. Robinson.

The secretary, responding to a November article in The Sun about guards assaulting teens at the jails, had been on the offensive and publicly contradicted the reports.

In December and last month, his agency sent letters to parents criticizing the newspaper for its "intent to distort" conditions at the jails, and he testified before a legislative committee in Annapolis that the news reports were exaggerated.

Last month, though, Robinson was forced to retreat, and he conceded that his agency had unintentionally understated the number of teens assaulted by guards. Lesansky's job had been to compile those reports. He could not be reached for comment.

Lee Towers, a spokesman for the Juvenile Justice Department, said he could not comment on the reasons for Lesansky's departure because it was a personnel issue. Robinson is recovering from pneumonia and was not available for comment.

Sources in the agency said Lesansky, a longtime confidant of Robinson's, was asked to resign late last month after releasing a second report with incorrect numbers.

In the second report - meant to correct Robinson's earlier misstatements - Lesansky found that the number of assaults against teens declined sharply in 2001 compared to a year earlier.

For example, at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County, the number of reported assaults by guards against teens were reported to have declined from 40 to 16. Towers said a review of that report found it was also incorrect. The department will issue a correction as soon as possible, he said.

Philip A. O'Donnell, who had been supervisor of the agency's investigators, was named as interim assistant secretary.

Robinson took over the Juvenile Justice Department as interim secretary in December 1999 and in April 2000 was named secretary.

He brought Lesansky to his agency from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, where Robinson served as secretary until 1997.

Vincent Schiraldi, director of the nonprofit Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in Washington, said the discrepancies in reporting on assaults in the facilities were evidence of the need for an independent citizens' group to monitor them.

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