Likely Juvenile Services head awaited

DeVore credited with fine national reputation, but leaves sore feelings behind in Conn.

February 06, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Hired in the 1970s to lead a Pennsylvania training school when he was only in his mid-20s, Donald W. DeVore has since developed a reputation as a nationally recognized expert in juvenile justice, adept at parachuting into states to help improve programs for troubled youth.

Advocates said yesterday that they are eagerly awaiting DeVore's arrival in Maryland, where he is expected to be tapped by Gov. Martin O'Malley to lead the state's struggling Department of Juvenile Services. He would leave his post as director of Connecticut's Bureau of Juvenile Services, a position in which he has ordered the closure of an expensive and highly controversial school after drastically reducing its population.

"What we're bringing in now is one of the nation's best, who has a record of helping to turn bad places around, who has the right values," said Bart Lubow, of the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which aids disadvantaged children. "He's very, very experienced, and he's done this before."

DeVore's selection would not be his first experience working with juvenile programs in Maryland. While serving as Connecticut juvenile justice director, he took a part-time position in 2005 as an independent monitor for the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School and the Cheltenham Youth Center.

For Connecticut employees, however, that experience would taint the rest of his tenure there. After DeVore stepped down from the Maryland position under pressure from Conn. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the union there issued a vote of no confidence in his leadership and openly questioned whether he was committed to long-term improvements.

"He leaves Connecticut with the staff wishing him well and not sad at all to see him leave," said Joanna James, a union representative with the Connecticut State Employees Association.

DeVore's resume carries significantly more experience in juvenile justice than his predecessors. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made reform a priority of his administration, but observers said little progress was made under Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a former delegate and lawyer who had advocated for children's issues but lacked formal experience.

Before him, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend oversaw the state agency. She was widely criticized for advocating boot camps as a tool to rehabilitate troubled youths.

"I'm very happy to see that the governor has taken his time to find the right person," said state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat. "The next secretary needs to go in and clean house - the system is a disaster and in need of a radical overhaul."

DeVore, 57, declined to comment for this article pending an announcement by the administration. According to a 2004 profile in The New York Times, he is a Philadelphia resident who spent three years in the Air Force and became the executive director of a Pennsylvania training school shortly after being hired to assess the facility at age 24.

His work as a court monitor and highly paid consultant has led him to Mississippi, Georgia, Oregon and Louisiana. In Connecticut, his primary challenge was dealing with the $57 million Connecticut Juvenile Training School, described as a mammoth failure fraught with corruption.

DeVore quickly moved to halt new admissions - reducing the population from about 240 to 100 - and sought more money for mentoring and counseling problems. The school is scheduled to close and be replaced with a handful of smaller centers.

"Lowering the numbers meant less kids and less problems, but anyone could've done that," said Jeff Carr, a juvenile parole officer. "It was a quick fix, and we joked that he'd take off before any real reforms actually happened."

Lubow, of the Casey Foundation, said workers there shared in the blame for problems. He called the criticism a "feather in Don's cap."

Stacey Gurian-Sherman, of Juvenile Justice Family Advocacy Initiative and Resources, served on O'Malley's transition team for the juvenile services agency and said DeVore was a terrific manager who "truly understands that services are the linchpin for an effective juvenile services department."

"I think he's the right person for the right time," Gurian-Sherman said.

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