Court considers residents' plea to remain at Rosewood Center

October 31, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Stephen Bowman Sr. says his son - a mentally retarded sex offender - thinks living at the state-run Rosewood Center in Owings Mills is like living at a summer resort.

But he predicts that life for 27-year-old Stephen Jr. at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup will be like life in prison. "Going to Perkins is going to jail," the elder Bowman said.

For more than five hours in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday, lawyers debated just how much the lives of the younger Bowman and 14 other Rosewood residents will change if the state moves them to a new unit on the grounds of the state's maximum-security psychiatric hospital.

Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, vowed to move all of Rosewood's 40 court-committed residents after an alleged killer escaped in May. Most of these residents, including Stephen Bowman Jr., have been found incapable of standing trial or not criminally responsible for their crimes because of their disabilities.

Sabatini plans to move the 15 residents accused of the most severe crimes now, then build a facility for the others.

The move was scheduled for today, but has been postponed to Nov. 17 while a legal challenge plays out. Lawyers for the 15 residents sued health department officials this month, claiming their clients are entitled to individual hearings before the state moves them to a more restrictive environment.

Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said he will rule on the issue promptly.

State lawyers said residents will receive the same services at Perkins they now receive at Rosewood - just in a more secure setting. Rosewood caregivers will move with the residents, and Rosewood's administration will continue to oversee their care. The residents' lawyers, however, say their freedom will be severely restricted.

The lawsuit occurs amid an emotional debate over whether Rosewood's Owings Mills campus will remain open for its 165 residents who are not court-committed, or whether those residents will move to small group homes.

The General Assembly budget committees have asked Sabatini by Nov. 15 to recommend one of Maryland's four institutions for closure. Rosewood appears a likely target.

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