Ehrlich criticized on juvenile jails

Two lawmakers, two union officials say he has failed to keep promises to fix system


A pair of Democratic legislators and two labor union officials called on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday to address crowding, insufficient staffing and violence in the state's juvenile detention centers.

They said those and other problems detailed in an independent monitor's most recent report about conditions in juvenile facilities show that Ehrlich has failed to fulfill promises that he made four years ago to reform the state's long-troubled system for dealing with juvenile offenders.

`Failed miserably'

"The only thing the governor did in the area of juvenile services, notwithstanding his campaign promises four years ago, is to change the name of the department," said Del. Anthony G. Brown, a Prince George's County Democrat. "He has failed miserably, and this report is evidence of that."

Brown, who spoke at a news conference in Towson, is Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's running mate in the Democratic primary for governor.

Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Ehrlich needs to come forward immediately with a plan to build small regional facilities for juvenile offenders around the state.

He said Ehrlich has not followed through on promises to reform the system and has not budgeted money to improve the system.

"It was smoke and mirrors and a lot of bluster, and at the end of the day, nothing," Zirkin said.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment. However, a Department of Juvenile Services official defended the agency's performance and Ehrlich's role in leading efforts to reform the system.

Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for juvenile services, said that reform efforts include closing most of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and bringing in the State Department of Education to take over schooling programs at some centers.

"The governor has been supportive of everything that we've tried to do to rebuild this system and make it better for kids," Hopkins said.

The monitor's report, detailed in a Sun article yesterday, described Maryland's juvenile detention centers 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 was based on visits by staff members of the monitor's office to a dozen juvenile centers around the state between October and December.

`Significant changes'

Juvenile services officials say they have made "significant changes" to address the concerns of monitors since that time.

Ron Bailey, executive director of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 92, said that not having sufficient and properly trained staff at the juvenile centers creates unsafe conditions for youths and the workers who supervise them.

"This is a disaster waiting to happen," Bailey said.

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