Report on juvenile facility escape calls for better security

Two students took control of a truck, crashed through security gates

December 09, 2010|By Alexis Gutter, Capital News Service

Poor supervision, miscommunication among staff members and lax security policies created the opportunity for two male residents to briefly escape from a Baltimore County detention center, the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, in September, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report, issued by the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, which evaluates facilities under the jurisdiction of the Department of Juvenile Services, recommends that all department employees, not just the Hickey staff, be retrained on security policies and be equipped with radios and distress alarms. The report also recommends that youths be transported only in secure vehicles.

On Sept. 7, Hickey staff members left two males, 15 and 17, both of whom had previously escaped from facilities, with a cook and a server to help clean the dining hall after dinner, the report states. This violates the department's policy that staff members must maintain constant supervision of youth.

When the cook was driving the two males from the dining hall to their residential facility, the 17-year-old began punching him in the face, the report states.

"It is hard to understand why these two youths were transported in a vehicle that did not have a barrier between the driver and the youths, why the cook who was driving the truck had no backup from direct care staff, and why the youths were not placed in handcuffs," the report states.

The youths commandeered the truck and crashed through Hickey security gates after the cook was not able to grab the keys before jumping out of the truck. The cook ran to alert security because he had no radio or other way to contact Hickey staff.

Before police arrested the pair about a half-hour after their escape, the truck was involved in property damage to four vehicles and several mailboxes in the surrounding community. A Hickey employee was also injured when the truck hit his vehicle, the report states.

The 15-year-old was transferred to a different juvenile facility after the escape to be charged as a juvenile. The 17-year-old was transferred to an adult facility to be charged as an adult.

This was the second escape from Hickey this year.

The Department of Juvenile Services said the recommendations from the report "have been resolved through intensive retraining, policy enhancements and stronger oversight."

The department wrote that among improvements in reaction to the escape, it retrained staff on supervision policies, increased security posts and installed razor wire on the facility's fence. The department did not address the recommendation to supply staff with improved security equipment.

When a report on the February rape and murder of a teacher at the Cheltenham Youth Facility, in Prince George's County, also recommended better security equipment for staff, the department claimed funding was unavailable.

For example, Cheltenham has a fence security system with sensors, but fence cameras cannot be installed until "the budget allows," according to the October report.

An audit of the department released in October revealed 14 findings of deficiencies, including failure to apply for $3 million in available Medicaid funding.

The incidents at Hickey and Cheltenham follow a pattern of general mismanagement at residential facilities, said Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates of Children and Youth.

"The state is not reaching a level that it can guarantee basic public safety," Joseph said. "It's a pretty low bar that the state is failing to meet on juvenile services right now."

A spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services could not be reached for comment.

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