DeVore out at state Juvenile Services agency

Embattled secretary looking for jobs elsewhere

November 18, 2010|By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun

Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore announced Thursday that he's looking for jobs in other states and will not seek reappointment, making him the first Cabinet-level departure since Gov. Martin O'Malley won a second term.

DeVore's four-year tenure atop the agency has earned mixed reviews from advocates and lawmakers; they applaud his efforts to physically revamp the state facilities but are frustrated that the agency has not beefed up its treatment and rehabilitation programs.

"Maryland still has a long, long way to go in order to have a juvenile justice system that is a national model," said Matthew Joseph, director of Baltimore's Advocates for Children and Youth, a Juvenile Services watchdog.

O'Malley thanked DeVore in a statement and said the secretary had inherited a "long-troubled agency" but made "important strides."

DeVore said it was "truly a pleasure" to work at the agency in a statement. On Wednesday, DeVore told The Baltimore Sun he was in the midst of "private conversations" with the governor about his future. He agreed to continue in his post while the governor conducts a nationwide search for a replacement.

The O'Malley administration credited DeVore with bridging communication gaps between other law enforcement agencies, a development they said contributed to a 46 percent drop in juvenile homicides from 2007 to 2009. DeVore was also applauded for shepherding three of the state's juvenile facilities out of federal oversight.

But DeVore's term has been marred with headline-grabbing problems, including a scathing report by auditors who found extensive procurement and bookkeeping lapses. He also faced questions about the efficacy of the state's monitoring system after a supervised teen eluded the department's GPS monitoring system and shot a 5-year-old girl in Baltimore.

Another wave of bad news came this year when a state employee was sexually assaulted and killed at the Cheltenham Youth Faculty in Prince George's County. A 14-year-old boy in a low-security program has been accused in that killing.

And on Wednesday, DeVore was criticized by Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp for requesting approval of $171 million in no-bid contracts for work already done.

"Most people who had the occurrences that this secretary had would have been gone a long time ago," said House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, who has long called for DeVore's ouster. O'Donnell said he wants to see the "entire top echelon" of leadership reviewed at the agency.

DeVore also frequently clashed with youth advocates — alienating some of the groups that most passionately urged reform.

Joseph pointed to the state's stubbornly high recidivism rate among juveniles as evidence that DeVore's policies have not been effective.

He said the advocacy groups had "great hope" for DeVore when he came to Maryland because he had experience running a juvenile services system in Connecticut, but they were quickly disappointed by what Joseph described as DeVore's "combative" reaction to criticism.

Others took a more tempered view. State Sen. Brian Frosh, who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, recalled being horrified by the physical condition of the state's facilities under DeVore's predecessor — including a vivid memory of watching a child who was locked in a small room banging on the door to get attention.

Two years into DeVore's tenure, Frosh paid a surprise visit to one facility and lunched with the children. This time, doors to the children's rooms were open and staff seemed more attentive.

Still, Frosh also wants to see better results when the children are released.

"We are still not giving the kids the treatment they need," Frosh said. "We're wasting lives and we're wasting money. That is not all Secretary DeVore's fault. Honestly, I don't have all the answers."

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