Report is critical of juvenile centers

Monitor notes violence at Hickey, Cheltenham

April 01, 2004|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

The latest report card for Maryland's juvenile justice system offers another portrait of violence, mismanagement and dangerous conditions at the state's largest detention centers for troubled youths.

The quarterly report, sent last week to the Department of Juvenile Services and the General Assembly by the state's Office of the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor, is a snapshot of problems during the last three months of 2003. Its harshest critiques, as has often been the case, were reserved for the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County.

At Hickey, where about 260 youths reside - to attend training school or to await court dates or placement in treatment programs - the report said assaults continued at the rate of more than 2.5 per day, with some of them involving staff members abusing students. That mirrors the rate in previous quarters.

The report also faulted Hickey for "a lack of education and programming," inadequate vocational training, the placing of youths into seclusion for several days, and broken locks on some bedroom doors, which left the occupants vulnerable to attack.

Hickey, managed for the past 11 years by Youth Services International, a subsidiary of the for-profit Correctional Services Corp., was due to be taken over by state management today. The state will run the facility while selecting a new contractor to take over in July.

At the state-run Cheltenham, despite efforts that have reduced the population to about 100, "the facility continues to experience excessive violence," the report said.

In October, it said, "Whyte Cottage youth broke into Henry Cottage and assaulted youth and staff. On November 24th, six fights were reported. In December, Neal and Murphy cottages engaged in a group fight in the dining hall and a group disturbance occurred on Henry Cottage. Inadequate staffing levels, under-trained staff, and the lack of adequate programming have been major contributing factors."

Among the report's more surprising findings is its critique of several architectural and design hazards at the new Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, a 144-bed detention center that cost $45 million and opened five months ago after two years of construction delays.

The report faulted the facility for having breakable glass "in areas accessible by youth, including bedrooms and dayrooms." It also cited sprinkler heads and shower doors that were not tamper-proof, noting, "On December 12, 2003, [a] youth used this [shower door] material to cause significant damage to the facility."

It recommended that the state "secure the services of a professional architectural and design firm specializing in secure correctional facilities in order to review all equipment and furnishings [at the center] to ensure that it meets acceptable standards."

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