Plan would replace Hickey

O'Malley proposes sweeping overhaul of juvenile facilities

January 18, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley will announce today plans to construct a new youth jail in Baltimore County, part of a sweeping $200 million overhaul of the state's long-troubled juvenile justice facilities, according to those familiar with the initiative.

If approved by the legislature, the $37 million modern detention facility would be built on the grounds of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Cub Hill, which was partly closed under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration because of dilapidated buildings and chronic security problems.

The plan also calls for two new facilities to be built in Prince George's County, one in Anne Arundel County and another in the Baltimore region, according to the governor's capital budget, which was released this week.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said today's announcement "is all part of a larger story to reform juvenile services within our state," noting the Democratic governor's proposal to increase the Department of Juvenile Services' operating budget by 12 percent next year, at a time when other agencies are being asked to do more with less.

But neighbors of the Hickey campus said they were disappointed at the decision to continue using the site. And several child-welfare advocates said they remain skeptical that the state is committed to fundamental reform of an agency its own head has called one of the most dysfunctional in Maryland.

"I just think it's about time they put those juveniles someplace else," said Anne Sheridan, whose house is across the street. She has had escaped juveniles running through her yard and knocking on her door. "Of course, nobody wants it."

During the Ehrlich administration, neighbors were promised that the facility would be closed and turned into a park or recreation center, said Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council.

Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the administration has suggested to her that a "large part" of the 200-acre campus could be transferred to the Department of Natural Resources for use as parkland, despite construction of the new facility.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said the new facility would house no more than 48 youths. Though Ehrlich closed the long-term residential program at Hickey in 2005, it has still been used as a temporary jail for 60 to 90 youths since, Smith said.

"The plan that will be announced is smaller, more secure and more effective," he said. Smith said he also derived comfort from O'Malley's assurances that the new facility would not become a repository for city juveniles, who, under the proposed plan, would be detained and treated within city limits.

In a briefing this week before the House Judiciary Committee, juvenile services Secretary Donald W. DeVore said there aren't enough treatment beds in Maryland to accommodate all of the young offenders deemed too dangerous by the courts for community-based treatment.

To avoid sending children to out-of-state programs or warehousing them in large detention centers where rehabilitative services are scarce, Maryland needs new facilities, DeVore said.

The state's independent juvenile justice monitor, whose office has produced scathing reports of the state's youth lockups, agreed that the facilities designated for overhaul by O'Malley are sorely in need of rehabilitation.

"There's absolutely no doubt they are inappropriate for housing youth," said Marlana Valdez, the independent monitor. "And all of these sites are located in areas that are under-served" by juvenile services programs.

The governor's capital budget for fiscal year 2009 includes $5.7 million for juvenile services, part of which will be used to design a new treatment center at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County, which has been downscaled in recent years amid incidents of violence.

DeVore said that the new center would be a "prototype" for additional facilities for youth offenders.

O'Malley wants to construct the new detention center at the Hickey site in 2012. He also proposes building a new treatment center at Cheltenham in 2010, followed by a new detention center there in 2011.

In 2013, the administration plans to construct a $57 million "secure treatment facility" somewhere in the Baltimore region, according to the capital budget. Smith said O'Malley officials told him that facility would be located in the city.

According to the department's new blueprint for residential treatment centers, none will house more than 48 youths, all of whom will come from nearby communities.

Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said the O'Malley administration had not yet persuaded the child-advocacy community that so many new jails are needed.

"Right now, Maryland's pattern is to incarcerate low-risk youth, who then come out and recidivate at catastrophic rates," he said.

DeVore said this week he is also expanding community-based programs for juvenile offenders, which are less expensive to operate and are preferred by child welfare advocates.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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Related coverage at baltimoresun.com/juvenile

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