Board opposes moving youths

Advisers say crowded center cannot take more young offenders

December 03, 2005|By GREG GARLAND | GREG GARLAND,SUN REPORTER

The advisory board for a center for juvenile offenders on the Eastern Shore is protesting the state's decision to transfer youths there from the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, saying the center is already crowded.

John E. Nunn III, who heads the advisory board of the state-run J. DeWeese Carter Center in Chestertown, wrote Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. on Nov. 18 to express the panel's concerns. The Carter Center is "overcrowded and understaffed," Nunn wrote, saying 27 youths were being housed at a facility designed for 15.

"They are bringing in more kids and don't have enough people to run this facility now," said Nunn, a Kent County public defender, in an interview. He said the board "feels strongly" that no additional youths should be sent to Carter until the problems are addressed.

The advisory board is made up of public officials and citizens who work with juveniles, including a judge, the Kent County sheriff, legislators, the county administrator and a minister.

Montague was in Las Vegas for a conference on programs for young offenders and unavailable to comment, according to department spokesman Edward Hopkins. He said Montague is preparing a response to the advisory board's letter.

While most long-term programs at Hickey closed this week, a 72-bed detention center where youths are held pending court appearances remains open. Nunn said the Carter Center has been sent seven youths from Hickey over the past few weeks.

Around the state, such juvenile jails have been at or over capacity in recent weeks. That is partly because more than 150 youths who are supposed to be in rehabilitative programs are being held for weeks in the detention centers while state officials find places for them.

Nunn said the letter was prompted by a report from the Carter Center's director that the state planned to send more youths to the center in the aftermath of Hickey's closing.

"We expect it's only going to get worse because of the overcrowding in the system," Nunn said. "They need these detention beds, as many as they can get."

But Hopkins said such transfers aren't new. It is common for youths to be moved to different detention facilities as the need arises, he said.

"That has been going on for decades," he said. "It's population management. If you have a full area and you need to move a kid elsewhere, you do that. The bodies have to go somewhere."

Nunn said crowding has long been an issue at the Carter Center. Although designed for 15 youths, state officials decided in 1991 it could hold nearly twice that number by double-bunking in what were supposed to be individual cells.

In his letter to Montague, Nunn noted that the Carter Center is an open detention center secured only by staff and has no electronic locks or barbed wire.

"Consequently, the safety of the children, staff, and community depend on the facility being fully staffed," Nunn wrote. "If the facility is understaffed and exceeds its designed capacity, then the children, staff and community are at risk."

Kent County Administrator M. Suzanne Hayman, a member of the advisory board, said the panel wants the Carter Center appropriately staffed and not overcrowded. "Certainly we're concerned about the safety of the community and that appropriate services are given," she said.

Another member of the board, Del. Richard A. Sossi, a Republican, said that though there are problems at the center, he considers them to be manageable.

"I'm not concerned, from the standpoint that I've seen it much worse," Sossi said.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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