Monitoring juvenile services

May 14, 2006

Not even six months into her tenure as Maryland's independent monitor for juvenile services and Katherine A. Perez has shown that she takes her job quite seriously. In one week, she released a quarterly update of Department of Juvenile Services facilities and two special reports based on surprise visits to two centers. All three reports reinforce the dismally familiar picture of an agency that's not fully in control of its mission or of the young people in its care.

DJS Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr.'s suggestion that the release of the reports was somehow politically motivated is a regrettable and inappropriate diversion. He should focus all his attention on improving his agency, not on blaming the messenger.

During her unannounced visits to centers in Laurel and Salisbury, Ms. Perez and another monitor from her office saw a male staff member throw punches at a female youth after she yelled at him and then spit on him and found three young men sleeping on temporary cots in bathrooms.

While providing no concrete evidence to refute her observations, Mr. Montague's most prominent reaction during a press conference was to criticize Ms. Perez for not adhering to proper protocols by giving DJS more time to refine its draft responses that were included with the release of the special reports. Even more disturbing was his suggestion that Ms. Perez had somehow conspired with Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. - who provides an office for her as directed by the General Assembly - to portray his department and the youths it serves in a bad light. Mr. Curran, of course, is the father-in-law of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Even as Mr. Montague said the words, they rang hollow.

DJS is a chronically troubled agency that serves a difficult population. Mr. Montague spoke sincerely about changes the department is trying to make and insists that he has sufficient resources to do the job, but we've heard an awful lot of this before. The obvious question remains: Why isn't the department doing better by the youths it serves? It's a question that Ms. Perez and the public need to keep asking.

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