Supervision found wanting

Our view: Review of juvenile cases demands system changes

April 24, 2008

When juvenile offenders under the supervision of the state show up dead in Baltimore or are charged with murder, something's got to give. Somebody has to start asking questions about the teenagers, their daily lives and the system overseeing them. Those questions have been asked and provoked a more comprehensive review of hundreds of Baltimore cases, and the results so far are damning. A lax system of supervision, overwhelmed caseworkers and poor administrative oversight, all of which suggest a system that needs a comprehensive overhaul.

The case-by-case review by state Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore underscores years of neglect and agency disinterest under previous administrations, and at the same time the commitment of Gov. Martin O'Malley to make meaningful changes and reforms. But Mr. DeVore has his work cut out for him. As reported by The Sun's Julie Bykowicz, a review of 983 of the 2,300 juveniles under DJS supervision in Baltimore has found about 100 cases in which there is no documentation that the teenagers were ever seen by a caseworker, which is about as basic as the supervision gets. There have been other deficiencies, including confusion over caseloads, practices used to monitor juveniles and a level of inefficiency endemic to big bureaucracies.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has long complained about improper supervision of juvenile offenders because her prosecutors deal with its deadly consequences. Advocates have pushed to keep youthful offenders in the community and with their families, rather than in detention centers. But the current state of affairs makes a mockery of that philosophy. Community placement only serves the youth and the public if juvenile offenders are properly supervised. Anything less ensures that kids will commit more crimes and more serious ones.

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