A return to Bowling Brook

Our view: A new program at the school should reflect Md. reforms

August 06, 2008

A Nevada company is seeking a license to operate a program for juvenile offenders at the old Bowling Brook Preparatory School in Carroll County. The type of program and the number of clients Rite of Passage would serve are not yet publicly known. But as state officials review the company's request, Maryland's efforts to reform the juvenile justice system should be uppermost in their minds. Juvenile offenders who need residential treatment should be in programs that serve no more than 48 teenagers and are close to their homes.

That's been the thrust of the state's reforms, and for good reason: Smaller is better. It's better for the teenagers and more acceptable to the communities in which these programs are located. Rite of Passage's interest in taking over the 16-acre Bowling Brook campus has raised concerns among juvenile justice advocates because the school served as many as 170 youths.

Bowling Brook shut down in 2007 after 17-year-old Isaiah Simmons III died while being restrained by staff. He was one of 74 youths the state had placed at the school. They were all removed after the teen's death, which led to a change in restraint policies at private facilities that serve juvenile offenders in the state's care. Today, 672 juvenile offenders overseen by the state are in a range of residential treatment programs.

Rite of Passage's license application is being reviewed by the state Office of Children, which will make a recommendation to the Department of Juvenile Services. The agency will then conduct its own review to determine whether the program is in compliance with state policies.

Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore has worked hard to improve state services for juveniles in trouble with the law. He shouldn't stray from that path.

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