Youths beat 15-year-old at detention center in city

Facility was understaffed during attack, report says

September 01, 2006|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,sun reporter

Youths beat boy at detention center At least half a dozen youths beat a 15-year-old boy in his room at the crowded Baltimore City Juvenile Detention Center and no one intervened to help during a 90-minute span in which youths were recorded going in and out of the room, authorities said yesterday.

Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services, acknowledged that at the time of the incident, only one staff member was charged with supervising 11 youths - nearly twice the number that policies allow.

"An employee allowed more youths out [of their rooms] than were permitted," Hopkins said. "The staff member has been reassigned to other duties pending the outcome of our investigation."

The incident, which happened two weeks ago, came to light with the release yesterday of a report by an independent monitor that reports on conditions inside Maryland's troubled state-run juvenile facilities.

Katherine A. Perez, who currently heads the monitor's office, said the real problem at the center is inadequate staffing levels. "You can't continue to blame the people who do the work day in and day out - and it is hard and dangerous work - when you have set these people up for failure," she said.

The boy who was assaulted, a new arrival at the detention center, told juvenile service investigators that "five or six kids came into his room and started hitting and punching him," Hopkins said. The spokesman said the boy received a "bump on the head" and was treated on the scene by a nurse. He said there were no other obvious signs of physical injury.

A report on the boy shortly after he was admitted to the detention center in early August described him as "timid, quiet and easily influenced by his peers," according to the monitor's office.

The office first learned of the Aug. 14 incident when it received a call more than a week later from Child Protective Services in Baltimore, monitors reported. An internal investigator from juvenile services told monitors that a videotape showed several youths entering the room of the boy who was assaulted, with a staff member at one point going to the door to talk to the boy.

"During a period of approximately 90 minutes, there was no observation of the victim youth, while several other youths were observed peering into the youth's room," the monitor's report states.

"After approximately 90 minutes, a shift supervisor was seen entering the youth's room and escorting him out. The youth was subsequently examined and treated by a nurse for head injuries."

Hopkins said the incident is still under investigation and it is not clear exactly when the assault occurred within the 90-minute time period.

According to the monitor's report, a shift commander at the detention center said there were only six youths outside of their rooms at the time of the incident. That would have been in compliance with agency policies that require one residential adviser to supervise no more than six youths outside their dorm room. But monitors later determined from logs that there were 11 youths out of their rooms at the time.

The report said a second staff member who was supposed to be on duty had called in sick, and administrators "could not hold other staff over from previous shifts because all of the staff had already worked two shifts - 16 hours."

The report added: "Overworked and tired staff persons are not conducive to providing the levels of supervision and attention that are necessary when caring for these youths."

Hopkins said that the juvenile services agency has had a hard a time recruiting and retaining staff despite an aggressive recruitment effort because few people want to take the job.

"We don't disagree that we need more staff, but what are we supposed to do?" Hopkins said.

Kimberly M. Armstrong of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, said the continued abuse of youths in Maryland juvenile is intolerable.

"How many times do we have to have children being hurt and nothing's being done about it?" she said. "It's a lack of will to do what's right."

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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