ANNAPOLIS – The state’s juvenile justice system needs a new leadership team to address a series of failings in the department, Maryland’s House Minority Leader said Thursday, calling for the department’s head to resign.
Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, asked that Gov. Martin O’Malley demand the resignation of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore — a request that an O’Malley spokesman said the governor will not be heeding.
In a letter to the governor, O’Donnell said DeVore needs to be replaced “because of the clear and apparent need for reform of the system and the dramatic steps necessary to achieve that reform.”
The Department of Juvenile Services has faced reports of problems in juvenile detention facilities across the state, including last month’s apparent sexual assault and murder of a 65-year-old teacher at the Cheltenham Youth Facility.
But O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said the governor would “certainly not” seek DeVore’s resignation. In a written statement, O’Malley, a Democrat, credited the state’s efforts with recent reductions in violent crime and juvenile homicides.
“Real progress is not achieved without the right leadership in place at vital public safety agencies including the Department of Juvenile Services,” the statement said. “I have full confidence in Secretary DeVore’s leadership of DJS.”
DeVore has headed the department since 2007.
A written statement from the department said DeVore inherited an underperforming juvenile justice system from Kenneth Montague Jr., who was appointed in 2003 by then-governor Robert Erhlich, a Republican.
“When (DeVore) began his tenure at the (department), he inherited a dysfunctional system of antiquated and unsafe facilities that failed to meet the needs of the youth in Maryland,” the statement said. “Secretary DeVore launched a bold vision of reform to make the juvenile justice system work for the youth and citizens of Maryland.”
The Department of Juvenile Services is responsible for the state’s imprisoned minors — those who have broken the law or have otherwise been deemed a danger to themselves or others. It also manages educational programs designed to deter juvenile crime and at-home counseling sessions with troubled youths.
Earlier this legislative session, DeVore shrugged off reports from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Maryland Attorney General’s office that described rampant abuse in juvenile detention centers and insufficient accommodations for the mentally ill.
“Many things in those reports are exaggerated or in fact false,” DeVore told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in January.
Among the reports’ findings were that some inmates were “isolated inappropriately for an extended period of time” and that girls housed in the Thomas J. S. Waxter Center faced overcrowding and understaffing.
In his letter to O’Malley, O’Donnell further mentions “ongoing reports of violence between youth and towards staff, and multiple escapes and AWOLs throughout the system.”
“Numerous reports over recent years indicate that the state of affairs at the Department of Juvenile Services has become untenable, and immediate and significant action is required in order to rectify the situation,” the letter said.
Capital News Service Reporter Jennifer Hlad contributed to this report.