State approves $4.6 million for former boot camp inmates

Settlement likely to play role in governor's race

August 08, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland officials gave final approval yesterday to spending almost $4.6 million to settle legal claims from youths beaten and mistreated at the state's juvenile boot camps.

The settlement, approved without comment by the state Board of Public Works, sets aside more than $2 million in scholarship money for juveniles who were held in the boot camps and pays almost $1.8 million to the 61 who were the most severely beaten. The rest of the money will go to lawyers.

Although yesterday's action ends litigation involving the boot camps, the issue is expected to play a prominent role in this year's gubernatorial campaign - mostly because juvenile justice is an area overseen by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the leading Democratic candidate.

Townsend's expected Republican opponent, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the spending of $4.6 million in taxpayers' money is a result of the "dysfunctional system" that Townsend oversaw.

"The bottom line is she's never cast a vote anywhere and she's never been elected to anything on her own," Ehrlich said. "This is the one thing she was put in charge of. To the extent she has a record, this is it."

A spokeswoman for Townsend's campaign said the lieutenant governor was too busy with meetings yesterday to comment on the settlement.

But campaign spokeswoman Kate Philips said Townsend's record is much more extensive than juvenile justice, including responsibility for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Business and Economic Development, the state police, and the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

"She has a strong record of managing all of these departments, and I would say that Mr. Ehrlich's record and the votes he has cast are not in line with what Marylanders believe," Philips said. "He has a record of voting with Newt Gingrich Republicans, including Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, and a record of never managing anything in his life."

Michael Sarbanes, a deputy chief of staff for the lieutenant governor, said Townsend believes that the settlement reflects her efforts to fix problems in the juvenile justice system.

"The settlement underscores her commitment to education and the reforms that she is making in the department," Sarbanes said. "Its emphasis on education, which is very unusual, will make sure that young people who have committed crimes have an opportunity to be productive, contributing citizens."

The problems in Maryland's three juvenile boot camps first came to light in a series of articles in The Sun in 1999, which described beatings inflicted by guards on the young delinquents under their supervision. The beatings - sometimes while inmates were handcuffed and shackled - resulted in cuts, bruises, shattered teeth and broken bones, the state has acknowledged.

After the articles, Gov. Parris N. Glendening ordered the National Guard into the boot camps, all in Western Maryland, to protect the youths. He eventually closed the camps. Two have reopened but without the military bent. Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto de Jesus and four of his top deputies were forced out by the scandal.

The 890 young men who passed through the boot camps from their 1996 opening until their closing in 1999 were eligible for the settlement, which was first proposed to a U.S. District Court in March. Most of the 890 are now adults, and some are in prison.

About 350 former boot camp inmates applied for a portion of the $2.1 million in education funds, hoping to use the money to earn high school equivalency degrees or to attend trade schools, vocational programs, community colleges or four-year colleges, said John P. Coale, a Washington lawyer who helped coordinate negotiations with the state.

"I was very pleasantly surprised that since we did this thing, so many kids took the initiative to fill out the forms and find a school," Coale said. "It proves that if you give these kids an opportunity, they'll take it."

Under the settlement, the 10 juveniles who suffered the most severe injuries from the beatings will share about $1 million, to be paid in four annual installments. Fifty-one others who suffered less severe beatings will get $15,000 each. The 14 lawyers who represented the juveniles will share $690,000.

Ehrlich charged yesterday that problems still exist in the juvenile justice system, pointing to a report last week in The Sun that three juveniles on home detention are accused by Baltimore police of committing murders after cutting off their electronic monitoring bracelets.

"This payment only clears up one episode of many," said Ehrlich, who expects to release his own juvenile justice reform plan late next week. "Clearly, it's been poorly run, and we paid a price for it. There could be a lot better uses in this state for $4.6 million."

Philips, Townsend's campaign spokeswoman, said the lieutenant governor has worked to fix the problems in juvenile justice.

"I think there have been a lot of lessons learned," Philips said. "Good management includes examining programs and dealing with problems where they exist in the best possible manner. ... Learning lessons from those problems and how you deal with them is key to continuing to grow as a manager."

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