ANNAPOLIS – Maryland officials Wednesday approved an independent monitor to keep an eye on the Cheltenham Youth Facility and the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, where many of the state’s juvenile offenders are housed. But next month’s closing of the Hickey facility has some lawmakers worried that the juveniles slated to be sent elsewhere – some as far away as Texas and Iowa – will be overlooked.
After a federal investigation accused both facilities of violating the civil rights of their residents last year, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich decided to close Hickey’s 144-bed committed residential program by Nov. 30. Hickey’s 72-bed detention center will remain open until a larger facility is approved by the General Assembly.
Last week, the Department of Juvenile Services announced that some of the toughest young offenders will be sent to nine out-of-state facilities in Texas, Minnesota, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa, until the state establishes a new secure placement facility.
State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said that she was glad to see a local monitoring system in place, but questioned how the state will check up on the juveniles sent out of Maryland next month.
“Who’s going to be monitoring these kids?” Kopp asked. “Is it the same kind of monitoring that’s been done in the past? Clearly that wasn’t sufficient.”
Delegate Robert A. Zirkin, D – Baltimore County, who chairs the House of Delegates juvenile law subcommittee, says the lack of an effective monitoring system “borders on ludicrous.”
“This administration has killed all meaningful oversight for these kids, both inside the state and out,” he said.
Under the state’s three-year settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Maryland hired Donald W. DeVore, Connecticut’s director of juvenile services, as an independent monitor to evaluate and report on the state’s efforts to improve conditions at Cheltenham and Hickey. DeVore will not be responsible for monitoring the out-of-state juveniles.
Ehrlich asked for a briefing by the department to go over the monitoring system in greater detail, specifically addressing how it will track juveniles sent out of state.
“It certainly makes it easier for the state to monitor a single program rather than several programs, but we need to look at this,” Ehrlich said.
“The department is going to go through great lengths, as it does now, to make sure children sent to facilities outside of Maryland are monitored,” said Lawanda Edwards, juvenile services department spokeswoman.
Even though the new official will not monitor Maryland children in other states, she said the department plans to send its group of 10 monitors to visit the children every three or six months, and individual case managers and probation officers will be calling them on a weekly basis. The department will also keep close contact with the managers of the facilities that will host the children.
Some lawmakers feel that more should be done to keep tabs on the children who will soon call Texas or Minnesota home. Delegate Neil F. Quinter, D – Howard, said the ineffective monitoring system is “emblematic of all the problems associated with the closure of the Hickey school.”
“The system already doesn’t work because we don’t have an officer responsible for tracking a juvenile from the system to the community,” he said. “To ship them off thousands of miles away and to essentially wash their hands of them takes it to an extreme level of dysfunction.”
In last year’s legislative session, Ehrlich weakened the Office of the Independent Monitor, which oversees state-run facilities for juvenile offenders, by eliminating the agency to which the office was under – the Office of Children, Youth and Families. Ehrlich later vetoed a bill that would have put the monitor’s office under the state attorney general, which would have made it independent of the governor.
Zirkin cites this decision as a main reason for the lack of a strong system to monitor state-run facilities, and said he hopes the General Assembly will override the veto in the upcoming session. He also pointed out that some of the Hickey juveniles will enter private facilities, which are not required to report to the state. “This is now a public safety problem,” he said. “If you plop them in the middle of Iowa with no possibility of family involvement or real state oversight, and then put them back on the streets of Baltimore, it’s a complete recipe for failure.”