Seclusion policy questioned at Baltimore's juvenile jail

3 teens confined to rooms for 3 days, possibly more

February 25, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

State and local officials are reviewing the seclusion policy at Baltimore's Juvenile Justice Center after three youths were required to stay in their rooms for three consecutive days and possibly longer after trying to escape from the downtown detention facility.

Under state law, detention officials have the right to place incarcerated youths in seclusion to keep them from escaping or hurting themselves or others, but there are strict time limits. There is some question whether supervisors are adhering to those limits, state and local officials said yesterday.

"We're aware of some concerns on this," said Ralph B. Thomas, executive director of the state's Office of the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor, which keeps tabs on conditions at youth facilities. "The initial use of seclusion may not be the problem, but we question the duration of the seclusion."

Baltimore officials are also investigating.

"We have received some complaints about long periods of seclusion and we are investigating them," said David R. Fishkin, chief attorney of the Juvenile Court Division of the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender.

A detention center employee told The Sun yesterday that the youths had been in seclusion for nine days. The employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said the boys were not allowed to shower until the eighth day and that they missed school. The employee said the action was taken as punishment, which is also prohibited by state law.

Department of Juvenile Services spokeswoman LaWanda G. Edwards disputed that account. She said the youths were kept in seclusion for three days only, the limit under state law without written permission from the facility's superintendent.

"It really is just to protect them," she said. "We do not use [seclusion] as sanction."

Edwards said the youths - two are 17 years old and one is 15 - were confined to their rooms after they squeezed between a door frame and locked door and escaped into an outdoor courtyard Feb. 15. By the time they were caught, one boy had climbed onto the roof, while the other two were still in the courtyard. No one was hurt.

While the boys were in seclusion, each day they received three meals, five hours of educational instruction and an hour of recreation, Edwards said. Their parents were also notified.

Advocates have criticized the city's juvenile jail since it opened in October 2003. The appointment of a new director of detention there, Rodney Pegram, had heartened some, but they were again concerned because of the possible seclusion-policy abuse.

"Once again we see that very explicit laws against child abuse are being ignored and children are being hurt," said Stacey Gurian-Sherman, director of Juvenile Justice Family Advocacy Initiative & Resources, a Maryland group that helps families with incarcerated youth.

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