Prison report new political fodder

O'Malley says system is mismanaged

officials say jails have improved

October 08, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that mismanagement by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has led to increasing violence at the state's juvenile centers and at adult prisons as well.

O'Malley said a U.S. Justice Department report that faulted the operation of the state-run Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center "squares with just about everything" that city officials have learned and "what advocates have been saying."

Three spokesmen for the governor did not return repeated phone calls yesterday seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Ehrlich's campaign also did not respond to a phone call.

O'Malley, the Democratic candidate for governor whose crime fighting record has been attacked by Ehrlich, a Republican who is seeking re-election, used the report's findings to criticize the governor's overall performance on public safety and rebut the contention of state officials that Ehrlich has delivered on a promise to reform the long-dysfunctional juvenile services system.

The report, whose contents were revealed yesterday in The Sun, said that the 144-bed facility is chronically understaffed and that the state provides youths with inadequate behavior management and treatment plans.

State juvenile officials have countered that conditions have significantly improved in recent months, saying they were surprised by the findings of the federal agency. Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. said his staff will meet with Justice Department officials in November to ask them to reconsider their position.

The mayor also accused Ehrlich of trying to hide the report until after the general election. A Juvenile Services spokesman said Friday that the agency didn't believe it was the state's responsibility to release the report because it was done by a federal agency.

"We need to properly staff all of our juvenile facilities," O'Malley said. "Sadly, under Bob Ehrlich, our jails and our juvenile service facilities have been some of the more dangerous places in the state."

This year, the state is on pace to spend $1 million to treat adult inmates who have been injured in prison violence, according to a Sun analysis of records.

Ehrlich's campaign criticized O'Malley's record on crime and leadership last week in a flier that alleged that the FBI has launched an investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. A top city police official has said there is no current federal probe of the department.

In light of the report on the juvenile justice center, O'Malley said yesterday, "Bob Ehrlich is much better at taking potshots at public safety than taking responsibility for public safety. This is just par for the course."

The Justice Department report, which was based on inspections conducted last fall, said that youths held at the state-run center "suffer from significant harm and risk of harm" from violence because of understaffing. The report also noted that treatment plans and behavior management are inadequate.

Montague said issues raised in the report, based on inspections a year ago, have been addressed since then.

Advocates said they remain unconvinced that conditions have improved.

The state's independent monitor of juvenile facilities, Katherine A. Perez, wrote Montague on Aug. 31 of "ongoing issues of staffing shortages and the threat to life, health and safety" of youths at the Baltimore facility.

"I wish I could be proud of the progress our state has made in the past four years," O'Malley said of the Juvenile Services Department, "but I can't. The system is weaker now than before."

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