- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — Dozens of dangerous and deeply troubled juvenile offenders may be shipped out of state when the Ehrlich administration makes good on its pledge to close the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School by Nov. 30.

No other facilities in Maryland can handle some of the youths Hickey has served, said state Secretary of Juvenile Services Kenneth C. Montague Jr.

He said some will have to be sent to residential treatment programs in Pennsylvania and Virginia that his agency has used.

Others might be sent to more distant states, he said.

“There are a number of places we’re looking at,” Mr. Montague told the Baltimore Sun. “There could be places in Indiana, and there’s one we’re looking at in Iowa.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, announced June 30 that the 144-bed secure program at Hickey, which serves the state’s toughest juvenile offenders, will be shut down. A 26-bed program for sex offenders and a 72-bed, short-term jail are to close later.

Hickey, near Carney in Baltimore County, has long been criticized as unsafe and ineffective.

The U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report last year concluding that conditions violated the constitutional rights of its residents.

Some advocates say that sending troubled youngsters out of state is a bad idea.

“In the private sector and out of state, there is no oversight,” said Delegate Bobby A. Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat. “The problems of Hickey are multiplied … because nobody’s keeping an eye on it.”

Many advocates for juveniles support shutting down Hickey, but say the state needs to lay the groundwork first.

“No one is saying closing Hickey is a bad thing, but if kids are going to be left in a worse position, it could be a nightmare instead of a godsend,” said Stacey Gurian-Sherman, director of Juvenile Justice Family Advocacy Initiative and Resources, or JJ FAIR, an advocacy group for the families of young offenders.

The Ehrlich administration, Miss Gurian-Sherman said, “decided to close Hickey before they had a plan for how to do it.”

She is concerned that Mr. Montague’s agency may force private providers to accept youths who aren’t suitable for their programs.

Others say they are hopeful that Hickey’s closing signals the start of true reform of the state’s chronically troubled juvenile justice system.

“I don’t know how this will all work out, but I think the department right now is highly motivated to realign its services,” said Jim McComb, who heads an association of private service providers.

The state has hired “several smart people” in recent months to spearhead the reforms, he said.

“I’m more optimistic today than I’ve been in years,” Mr. McComb said.

Mr. Montague has said he expects that only 16 hard-to-place youths would not have completed their court-ordered stays by Nov. 30. They probably will have to be transferred to out-of-state programs, his staff said.

The larger question, advocates and others say, is what the department plans to do with the seven to 10 youths each month who typically have been committed by the courts to secure facilities at Hickey.

Mr. Montague said no youth considered a threat to public safety will be sent home or to community treatment programs.

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