Hickey saga far from over

December 01, 2005

Children are still at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, and they will be there for a while. Though the state's reform programs and intensive schooling there have ended, as of Monday, 113 children were staying at Hickey. In the dormitory-jail part of the facility, children wait for their hearings - or, having had their hearings and been found delinquent and needing services, they wait for the state Department of Juvenile Services to find a suitable program. The wait does not improve them.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has done well to keep his promise to close the "committed" portions of the school, those that served DJS' rehabilitation mission so poorly for so many years. But follow-through on what happens to the juveniles most in need of therapy, schooling, security and stability is less admirable.

The community-based Choice Program has taken in most of the less serious offenders once sent to Hickey's successful short-term residential program, but no one has taken on the majority of the more serious offenders. Some still sit at Hickey in unstructured programs; others languish at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County and at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, a building that officials promised would never hold children "pending placement."

More than 150 juveniles statewide are pending placement - assigned by the courts to rehabilitative treatment programs but instead sitting in juvenile jails waiting for DJS to find them a place, The Sun's Greg Garland reported this week. At least 50 of them have waited more than six weeks. Because Hickey's now-closed committed program was the state's only such option, and judges continue to find children delinquent and needing serious rehabilitation, it is likely the number of juveniles waiting for placements will grow.

Governor Ehrlich pointed out the pending-placement problem in 2002 during his first campaign for governor; DJS Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. has commented on it in nearly every legislative hearing since. One would have thought they would have a handle on it now - especially as they decided to shut down one of the major options for these kids. Sadly, it does not appear that is the case.

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