Townsend blamed for boot camp payout

Republicans charge she mismanaged juvenile justice system in state

March 30, 2002|By Todd Richissin and Tim Craig | Todd Richissin and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Republicans harshly criticized Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend yesterday for her handling of juvenile boot camps and blamed her for a $4.6 million payout to former delinquents and their lawyers.

As expected, the state attorney general's office and lawyers for nearly 900 former boot-camp inmates jointly filed papers in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday, seeking compensation and an end to legal issues surrounding the beating of the teens by guards at three Western Maryland camps.

Under the settlement, about $2.1 million will go into an education fund for the former inmates, and about $1.8 million will be paid to those most seriously injured. The remainder will go to their attorneys.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening had named Townsend to oversee juvenile justice, and Republicans have been outspoken about the agency's failures since The Sun reported in 1999 that boot camp guards were routinely beating teens in their care.

The settlement proposal filed yesterday, which must be approved by a judge, resulted from beatings at the camps since shortly after they opened in 1996. They were closed in December 1999, three months after Townsend learned that guards were assaulting teens.

She said at the time that when she learned of the assaults she ordered an end to them. They continued, she said, because officials at the Department of Juvenile Justice lied to her and allowed the assaults to continue.

"It's a shame the taxpayers have to pay for mistakes that were made because of a lack of leadership in the juvenile justice program," said Paul Schurick, a spokesman for Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, the likely Republican nominee for governor. "It's more than $4 million because somebody didn't do her job."

J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the Senate minority leader, said as troubling as the episode at the boot camps was, he is more concerned that Townsend's handling of it may be emblematic of her inability to manage a bureaucracy.

"Here's the one department she's responsible for, that she was supposed to demonstrate her leadership capabilities on," the Somerset County Republican said. "If you judge her record by what has happened at DJJ, it raises a lot of questions."

Townsend's office, as well as the governor's, has sought to portray the settlement as something akin to an education initiative.

"She didn't take on juvenile justice because it's easy," said her policy adviser, Michael Sarbanes. "She took it on because she thinks it's important to make our community safe and to give troubled juveniles the opportunity to become productive adults."

He said juvenile crime was down 27 percent since 1996, by some measures. The money to be used for college tuition or vocational school, officials said, fits neatly with the juvenile justice agency's mission to both hold teens responsible for their behavior and help rehabilitate them.

Other Democrats were publicly supportive of Townsend, arguing that under the new leadership of Bishop L. Robinson, the Department of Juvenile Justice has been improving, however slowly.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, the House majority leader, said Republican attempts to blame all that is wrong on Townsend will not fly with voters.

"I think their criticism will fall short because the Glendening-Townsend administration did move in very swiftly" to end the boot camp scandal, the Baltimore Democrat said. "Should this fall on her shoulders? No, no, no."

Advocates for the teens, meanwhile, said they were happy that the former inmates were being compensated but disappointed the settlement did not require systemic changes in the juvenile justice agency. And while they have not been thrilled with Townsend's performance on juvenile justice issues, they are leery of the alternative.

"Whoever runs for governor needs to lay out a plan for how juvenile justice would continue to be reformed," said Stacey Gurian-Sherman, a child advocate and attorney who represented several former boot camp inmates.

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