The Cheltenham Youth Facility violated standards last year by assigning a roommate to a 10-year-old sex offender who should have been housed alone, according to a state monitor's report. The offender and his 11-year-old roommate were later found "engaging in a sexual act while locked in their bedroom" on Thanksgiving Day, the report said.
Department of Juvenile Services standards call for admissions workers at juvenile detention centers to identify youths with special problems and house them accordingly. Sex offenders are to be placed in rooms by themselves and closely monitored to ensure the safety of other youths.
In this case, "because the intake worker failed to notify staff that the 10-year-old was charged with a sex offense, he was assigned to a room with a roommate," said the report by the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor, which is part of the governor's office.
The report suggested that crowding figured in the incident by forcing some juveniles in the Prince George's County facility to double up in rooms meant for one. After the incident, roommates were split up at the cottage and bunk beds were placed in a dayroom to handle the overflow.
But it didn't work. On Dec. 5, "staff found one of the youth involved in the Thanksgiving Day incident in the bathroom engaged in a sex act with another youth. Staff failed to properly supervise the youth during bathroom breaks," the report said.
Juvenile Services spokesman Lee Towers said yesterday that the incidents were referred to the department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Accountability for investigation. He said he could not immediately provide information about the outcome.
The report was among more than a dozen obtained by The Sun under a public records request. Collectively, the documents depict Cheltenham, designed as a short-term juvenile holding facility, as crowded, understaffed and beset by youth-vs.-youth fights.
`A severe situation'
Heather Ford, director of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, said incidents such as the one involving the 10-year-old are appalling.
"It's tragic," Ford said. "It makes you wonder why 10- and 11-year-olds are locked up without eyes-on supervision. I believe the institution is so broken that it can't be fixed. ... We want it torn down."
Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, called conditions at Cheltenham "a public scandal."
"We got budget language calling for its closing, and still the doors are open," Jackson said. "Kids are getting hurt. It's time to just close the place. Enough is enough."
Henry P. Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the governor is acutely aware of the problems within the juvenile justice system but that it will take time to resolve them.
"Clearly, it is a severe situation at Cheltehnam, which is precisely why he made it part of his campaign platform," Fawell said. "He campaigned on reform and a compassionate approach to these kids, but it will not happen overnight."
Fawell said no specific schedule is in place for closing Cheltenham, but added that opening a new juvenile justice facility in Baltimore this fall will help to alleviate problems.
The independent monitor's report also detailed several other incidents at Cheltenham that occurred because of inadequate staff.
It said mental health clinicians twice ordered suicidal juveniles last year to be transported to a hospital for mental health evaluation, but "due to the staffing shortage, the youth were not taken." Suicide threats and attempts have been a persistent problem at Cheltenham, state officials acknowledge.
The monitor has also been preparing a report -- due out next week -- on the Charles H. Hickey School in Baltimore County. Previous reports have identified problems with fights there and excessive force by staff.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said it will take time to fix the problems with the juvenile justice system, including those at Cheltenham.
"We have a new head of juvenile services, Ken Montague, who has only been on the job for about four months," Miller said. "I know he's aware of the situation at Cheltenham. He will make recommendations to the governor and hopefully they can be dealt with rapidly."