Juvenile justice monitor created

Boot camp abuses led to legislation for independent overseer

Governor signs 190 bills

April 26, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Ending a long struggle by advocates of juvenile justice reform, Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed a bill yesterday creating a permanent, independent office to oversee programs for youthful offenders.

The legislation, described by advocates as stronger than the administration's original proposal, was one of 190 bills the governor signed into law at a State House ceremony.

The legislation signed included bills that were high-priority issues for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, including measures to curb drunken driving and deter domestic violence.

The juvenile justice bill, an effort to resolve problems in an agency overseen by Townsend, will formally create an Office of the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor as part of the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families.

The legislation was sponsored by Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., who has been pushing for independent oversight of the troubled Department of Juvenile Justice since the disclosure in 1999 that guards at boot camps for youthful offenders assaulted children in their care.

Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, who was brought in to reform a department in chaos, initially opposed a bill creating an independent oversight commission. He later agreed to the appointment of a monitor, in September 2000, under a memorandum of agreement with the Office for Children, Youth and Families.

Montague said the legislation, which had been blocked by the Senate in previous years, passed this year after violent incidents in Maryland's juvenile justice facilities continued.

"The legislature was really taking the position that this is the time to do something," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Montague said an important feature of his bill is a requirement that the monitor report his findings not only to the administration, but also to the General Assembly.

As the bill was signed, reform advocates posed proudly with a governor who has resisted their efforts in previous years.

"I think the administration had a change of heart," said James P. McComb, executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth.

He said Townsend, who took much of the blame in the boot camp fiasco, had become a supporter of the bill.

McComb said the key difference between the Montague bill and an administration bill that failed is that the measure the governor signed goes further to ensure the independence of the monitor.

"This is a very significant step in the right direction. If the office is now allowed to function as it's intended, then we should expect aggressive oversight and open reporting," McComb said.

Other bills signed yesterday will crack down on drunken driving by banning open containers of alcohol in vehicles and increasing the penalties for repeat offenders to include a mandatory one-year driver's license suspension.

Both bills were heavily supported by the lieutenant governor, though they not as strong when they emerged as when they were introduced.

Townsend, who is gearing up for a gubernatorial bid, hailed the signing of another bill that will require government agencies to provide interpreters and translate forms for speakers of other languages when their population reaches 3 percent in a local jurisdiction.

The measure was strongly supported by Hispanic groups.

"This bill is essential for immigrants to be able to think of themselves as real Marylanders," said Kimberley A. Propeack, attorney for the Maryland Latino Coalition for Justice.

Glendening also signed several bills related to the proposed sale and conversion to for-profit status of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

They included measures shifting to the company the burden of proof that the transaction is in the public interest, barring incentive bonuses for executives if the sale goes through and requiring any acquisition to be an all-cash deal.

Other bills signed yesterday provide the option of a sentence of life without parole for violent sexual offenders and require them to register with authorities for the rest of their lives. The bills were named "Christopher's Laws" after 9-year-old Christopher Ausherman, who was killed in Frederick in 2000 by a convicted sex offender.

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