SALISBURY - Maryland Juvenile Justice Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. met yesterday with Eastern Shore officials in an effort to salvage a program for juvenile offenders at the site of a military-style academy closed last week amid allegations of abuse.
But Wicomico County Sheriff R. Hunter Nelms, whose office ran the Lower Shore DRILL Academy, said he will not participate in running a new program.
"The sheriff's office is out of the drill academy business," Nelms said after meeting with Montague for an hour yesterday. "This office was willing to make changes, but the Department of Juvenile Services was completely insincere. That's one of our biggest disappointments."
Montague later met with officials from four Shore counties - Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester - who have supported the academy concept. They have described it as a needed option for young offenders from the rural region who otherwise are often sent to distant juvenile facilities.
"I made my case, and the point of me coming here was to lay out our needs so that we can look at all the options," Montague said. "We need some type of program for the Shore. We don't necessarily want to exclude anything."
Local officials who huddled behind closed doors with Montague yesterday said he outlined a consultant's report that recommended extensive changes to the nine-month boot-camp program, which opened in December.
Among other changes, the four-page report suggested that the program should "reflect a child care facility as opposed to a prison."
The emphasis on law enforcement procedures and intervention techniques created an adversarial style at the academy, the report said. It also suggested that parents be allowed more contact with their sons and that drill instructors be trained to differentiate between "discipline and punishment."
Wicomico County Councilman Edward T. Taylor headed a seven-member advisory board for the now-defunct DRILL Academy, which stands for Discipline, Respect, Integrity, Leadership and Learning.
He said local officials believe Montague's office was hasty in ordering the removal last week of the 45 youths housed there.
The order could have waited until the completion of a state police investigation into allegations of abuse made by two teenagers and their families, Taylor said.
"We have wanted some kind of juvenile facility in this area as far back as 1990," Taylor said. "We're pleased that DJS says they aren't abandoning us. They want ideas from us for some kind of new program. It seems like they want to get something done."
The Wicomico County Council is scheduled to be briefed by Nelms on Tuesday. Among other issues, the academy has a $500,000 deficit because of delays in placing 13- to 18-year-old offenders there. The program was designed to be self-sufficient, funded by payments from the state of $153 a day per child.
Somerset County Administrator Charles E. Massey said county commissioners there put up $145,000 to help build the facility, made up of three manufactured buildings at a secluded site near Salisbury's airport.
"We felt it was a needed facility in the beginning, and we still think that," said Massey.