Slow going

Our view : Maryland's juvenile justice agency has its ups and downs as it works to improve outcomes for troubled youths

March 02, 2009

The Victor Cullen Center is Maryland's answer to big, noisy and unsafe juvenile treatment facilities. It is the model on which the state is planning a network of small, secure, regional centers for troubled youths who can't be served in their neighborhoods.

But the Frederick County facility remains a work in progress as state officials continue to find the right mix of education opportunities, skills training and after-care programming. Rearrest of program participants is not uncommon, but most have not been convicted, and that's some measure of progress.

As of last year, 31 students successfully completed the program and 14 dropped out. Although more than a dozen graduates picked up arrests, state officials say only three teens who attended Victor Cullen were found delinquent again. Success is hard to quantify in the juvenile justice field because so many of Maryland's young offenders require follow-up care, and services may be hard to come by.

The state's juvenile justice monitor, in her 2008 year-end report, found fault with Victor Cullen's after-care planning and follow-up, citing them as possible reasons for the high rearrest rate. She rightly encouraged the Department of Juvenile Services to expand a promising new apprenticeship program at Victor Cullen that served 11 youths. The agency enrolled a second class in late January and began an electrical training course there. That's progress.

But the majority of teenagers under the supervision of the DJS remain in the community, and keeping them engaged and out of trouble is a struggle. A report by the group Advocates for Children and Youth says the number of juveniles who are not rearrested has barely advanced over the past five years, from 49 percent to 50 percent. Teens in detention facilities continued to face problems, especially in youth-on-youth violence.

What has improved is the number of state dollars used to fund a proven, family-based treatment method. DJS Secretary Donald W. DeVore expanded these treatment slots from 241 to 299. That has helped reduce rearrests, as has the department's use of global positioning systems. But the need for quality, sustained after care remains out of reach for many troubled youths who need it.

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