Ehrlich signs bill changing focus of juvenile justice

Incarcerated offenders to be offered education

April 23, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Hailing the start of a "cultural change" in the state's treatment of young offenders, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed legislation yesterday changing the name of Maryland's juvenile services agency and promising new educational opportunities for incarcerated youths.

In a symbolic break with the policies of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration, the bill changes the name of the Department of Juvenile Justice to the Department of Juvenile Services -- the agency's name before Glendening changed it.

Ehrlich said the change is more than symbolism. "This administration is very serious about a different approach," he said. He referred to young offenders as "savables" and said, "We're not willing to write them off anymore."

The juvenile justice measure was one of the few high-profile Ehrlich initiatives to win approval from the General Assembly during his first session as governor. However, the measure passed without much of the funding to implement it.

The legislation, which passed both houses unanimously, places responsibility for educating youths jailed at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School with the State Department of Education. However, the budget does not include the money for the Education Department to do that.

The measure was one of 147 signed by the governor yesterday, his second round of bill-signings. But Ehrlich focused his comments at the signing ceremony on juvenile crime, an important issue in his campaign.

He criticized the trend prevalent in the 1990s of transferring many youthful offenders into the adult penal system. "To the extent you waive these `savables' into the adult system, it's a bad deal for society and certainly a bad deal for taxpayers," Ehrlich said.

Juvenile services fared better in next year's budget than many state agencies, gaining a 4.5 percent increase at a time when many departments absorbed cuts. However, most of the $7.5 million Ehrlich requested for education at Hickey was cut because of budget problems.

Kenneth C. Montague Jr., the Cabinet member whose title will change to secretary of Juvenile Services, said the switch symbolizes a change from a punitive approach to "a more therapeutic model." He said the legislation will eventually raise the level of instruction offered at Hickey to that offered other students in Maryland.

Other legislation the governor signed yesterday:

Provides an extra $9 million for renovations to aging schools.

Extends for at least three more years a requirement that health maintenance organizations cover the cost of 48 hours of hospital care -- or 24 hours of inpatient care and 24 hours of home care -- after a mastectomy or removal of a cancerous testicle.

Restricts access to some architectural and engineering plans of public buildings to keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

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