Juvenile jails assailed

State's monitor issues scathing report

May 09, 2006|By GREG GARLAND | GREG GARLAND,SUN REPORTER

The state's independent monitor has issued a scathing report about conditions inside Maryland's juvenile detention centers - describing them as crowded, understaffed, and the scene of gang fights and near-riots by youths who have too few activities to keep them occupied.

The report, the first to be issued since the Ehrlich administration appointed Katherine A. Perez as the independent monitor in January, details a list of problems in the state-run jails and residential centers for juvenile offenders.

They include the "thug-like" demeanor at one facility of some staff members who allegedly abused youths and allowed them to fight each other; a lack of educational and other activities to keep young offenders occupied; the improper and excessive use of seclusion; and, at some facilities, inadequate supplies of such basics as socks, undershirts, soap and personal hygiene items.

Overall, the report paints a grim picture of a juvenile services system that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as a candidate promised to reform. A spokesman for the governor, Henry Fawell, declined to comment yesterday on the report.

Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. was at a conference yesterday and not available for an interview, his spokesman said.

In a written statement, Montague pointed out that the report is an assessment of conditions from October through December and said his agency has "made significant changes addressing the Independent Monitor's concerns" since then.

But Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the report shows that Ehrlich has failed to fulfill his promise of reform.

"Kids are getting just as bad if not worse treatment than they used to get," Zirkin said. "There has been no progress. ... They've had four years to build small regional facilities of the type that have worked in other states, and the shovel's still in the garage."

Dante L. Wilson, chairman of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, said, he, too, has been disappointed. "I'm not going to say no reform has taken place," he said. "It's just on a very, very slow and small schedule. In the meantime children are being hurt."

Staff from the monitor's office visited a dozen state-run juvenile centers in preparing the report. It describes repeated incidents of out-of-control behavior, including what appears to have been a near-riot in October at the Lower Eastern Shore Children's Center in Salisbury.

The melee began with a fight between two youths and escalated after a third pushed buttons on a control panel to release other youths from their locked rooms in the 24-bed facility, according to the monitor's report.

"The youth engaged in a group disturbance by throwing the trash cans/tables/chairs, pulling the pay phone off of the wall, knocking over a file cabinet and attacking a youth for no reason," the report says.

Bad examples

Monitors also noted problems at the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center in Montgomery County, a 57-bed detention center that houses both boys and girls. The manager in charge of that facility was replaced this year.

"Some staff have demonstrated a deplorable example for youth, including swearing at fellow staff and at youth, allowing fighting to take place on the unit and generally demonstrating a street, thug-like demeanor," the report says.

At the J. Carter DeWeese Center in Chestertown, a youth reported that "a male staff member asked him to assault a youth in retaliation for being disrespectful to a female staff member." The male staff member was disciplined and the youth transferred to another facility, the report says.

And at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County, the staff told monitors they were concerned about a lack of order.

"Several staff complained that the behavior of youth and staff from Clinton Hall was `off the hook,'" the report states. "Staff from direct care and the [state education department] stated there is favoritism and too much horseplay between youth and staff."

Long-term residential programs at Hickey were shut down in November, but the detention units remain open.

The report says a youth charged with armed robbery and carjacking was able to escape from Hickey while he was being processed into the facility in October. The youth, who wasn't shackled, "ran out of the intake area through unlocked doors and exited the sallyport/intake area because the gate was left open," the report says.

Meanwhile, 18 youths ran away from the Maryland Youth Residence Center, a shelter in Baltimore that houses young offenders ages 12 to 18, during the period covered by the report.

At some centers, the report says, residents have been improperly held in seclusion - essentially locked in their rooms - for extended periods. At the Lower Eastern Shore Children's Center, "some youths were in seclusion for two and three days without the proper documentation," the report says.

Some improvement

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