A river full of promises

December 13, 2004

IT WAS SUPPOSED to be a midstream oral report on how the state Department of Juvenile Services is doing now, five months into the reform it and the General Assembly mapped out. Instead, the Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing on Tuesday was another exercise in exclusion, another example of battered-public syndrome.

People want to believe the system that handles troubled youngsters is finally steering straight, even if the improvement is small to start. Senators on the committee, advocates and parents in the audience heard the DJS secretary, Kenneth C. Montague Jr., when he said, "This is not a solo journey." We agree everyone needs to be on board to reform a system that's been rocky for decades.

But they also heard Mr. Montague say, "I can't talk about that," when asked about levels of violence at Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, one of the subjects of a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice that might turn into a lawsuit if things aren't fixed to DOJ's liking. They heard him say, "I can't comment" on whether current or planned staffing levels could lead the department to stumble as seriously as it did when it couldn't deal with violence at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center and the need to take over running Hickey School at the same time. And they heard Mr. Montague later tell the chairman of the committee that if he wanted a copy of the latest state monitor's report on DJS, which DJS files to the Senate, the senator could go ask the Senate president for it.

It's hard to expect people to be part of the solution when you don't give them the facts they need to do it. Unfortunately, there is just not much trust in DJS.

The department has a sad tradition of being just about to start something big, then being just about to start something else big, then changing staff and now, really, being just about to start something big. But that something doesn't happen, or happens for a moment and then falls apart.

DJS is not a private corporation. Marylanders own it; they deserve to see what they are paying for. Their elected representatives, as their stand-ins, deserve more respect and cooperation than a stream of "I can't talk about that."

Its deputy says in a few months DJS will be able to report back to the committee with real progress and results. But wasn't that what it was supposed to do this time?

We can't wait.

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