A Baltimore County juvenile court master denied yesterday a request by the state to transfer a 16-year-old boy from the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School to a program for juvenile offenders in Ohio.
Master Richard Gilbert faulted the Department of Juvenile Services for failing to check whether any in-state residential treatment centers that offer intensive mental health services might be willing to take the youth.
"I think the department hasn't, at a minimum, exhausted all the alternatives," Gilbert said.
His ruling comes as the state is scrambling to find places for young offenders who will be displaced when most of Hickey closes Nov. 30.
State officials have said that in the short term, some youths will have to be sent as far away as Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana until new programs can be developed here.
Advocates, judges and others say they support closing Hickey, which has long been criticized as unsafe and ineffective. But they fault the Ehrlich administration for failing to develop alternative programs first so that youths wouldn't have to be sent hundreds of miles away.
The case heard by Gilbert yesterday involved a boy who has been in mental health treatment programs from age 9, according to testimony yesterday. He was arrested several years ago on a weapons charge and later for drug violations and vandalism. The incidents led to an unsuccessful stay in a therapeutic group home and a transfer in April to Hickey.
A lawyer for the department argued that two Maryland programs for juvenile offenders recently refused to accept the boy, but Gilbert said officials needed to try mental health facilities as well. He said he realized the youth likely would be hard to place in Maryland because of his record of assaulting staff members at other facilities.
The Maryland Public Defender's Office asked Gilbert to block the boy's transfer, arguing that juvenile services officials had failed to demonstrate that the program they selected - Cornell Abraxas in Shelby, Ohio - would meet his needs and that there were not appropriate programs available here.
"We believe that children are best served in-state and that there are programs that can meet his needs in-state," said Assistant Public Defender Lina Ayers.
Before the state can send a juvenile offender outside Maryland, the law requires a finding that "equivalent facilities for the juvenile are not available in the state of Maryland; and institutional care in the other jurisdiction is in the best interests of the juvenile and it will not pose an undue hardship."