ANNAPOLIS – The Department of Juvenile Services said Wednesday it will remove juveniles from and halt referrals to the state’s only juvenile drill academy, pending an investigation of alleged child abuse.
An investigator with the DJS Office of Professional Responsibility and Accountability first uncovered allegations of abuse last month, DJS said.
The 40 juveniles at the Salisbury facility, which opened in December 2003, will be removed and redirected to other DJS facilities and programs today, said Lawanda Edwards, a spokeswoman for DJS.
“The abuse is not physical or sexual in nature,” said Edwards, who declined to answer whether the suspected abuse was verbal or emotional.
The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the questioned Lower Shore Drill Academy — a boot camp that focuses on education for juvenile male offenders in a yearlong rehabilitation program — reiterated that the allegations were neither physical or sexual.
Abuse allegations first made three weeks ago prompted Wicomico County Sheriff R. Hunter Nelms to ask the State Police to conduct an independent investigation at the boot camp, said Maj. Gary Baker of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department. He added the sheriff brought him in to help retrain drill instructors at the facility concurrent with the abuse investigation.
Baker said the sheriff’s department was caught off-guard by the DJS announcement, since it came during a current investigation.
“The sheriff received a phone call this afternoon from (DJS) Secretary (Kenneth C.) Montague saying they were going to come to pick up the kids,” Baker said.
“You probably know as much as we know,” said Baker who added the Sheriff’s Department was waiting for DJS or the governor’s office to make a move.
“The sheriff has been making phone calls to find out what is going on,” he said.
Some child advocates said the boot camp facility offered juveniles a positive recourse, while other DJS facilities failed to provide enough activity or supervision.
Cameron Miles of the Juvenile Justice Coalition said he toured the boot camp last month.
“It looked like a great program — very disciplined. And the young people were very engaged. There was nothing negative,” he said.
In light of the abuse allegations, the Juvenile Justice Coalition will revisit the facility next Wednesday.
The coalition said it has received unconfirmed reports from parents of offenders at the camp that juveniles were forced to crawl in sand. Another unconfirmed report said residents of the camp were forced to drink excessive amounts of water.
A sandpit at the facility is used in a physical fitness obstacle course, Baker said.
The coalition said it supports the DJS decision to immediately halt new referrals and remove current juveniles from the camp.
“I think that’s a good idea until we can find out further what’s going on,” Miles said.