- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

BALTIMORE (AP) Reports from Maryland's three largest juvenile jails show guards have assaulted teen-agers there dozens of times, nearly two years after the state temporarily shut down three smaller facilities because guards were abusing those in their care.
On Dec. 7, 1999, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend promised that the entire juvenile-justice system would be reformed, releasing a joint statement declaring that "violence will not be tolerated."
But staff members at Maryland's juvenile-justice systems have described violent incidents since then, such as the time a guard punched a teen in the mouth two or three times, sending him to the hospital.
In another case, a guard grabbed a teen goofing off in the lunch line, resulting in an altercation in which the teen broke an arm. After another fight involving a guard, a teen broke a bone in his face.
The incidents were among dozens of "critical incident reports" last year obtained by the Baltimore Sun under public-information laws from the jails the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County, the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County.
In a report published Sunday, the paper reported that violence in the three largest juvenile facilities is not only tolerated by guards, but often initiated by them.
The state's files show several charges of guards assaulting teens, using excessive force while restraining them or looking the other way when they assault each other. For example, state police found some teens were forced into a weekly "fight club," where they settled problems as guards looked on.
Mrs. Townsend acknowledged the conditions at the facilities in an interview with the Sun.
"I'm disheartened and sickened by it," said Mrs. Townsend, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. "It's something that in no way is acceptable."
According to the reports examined by the Sun, 93 were accounts of staff members assaulting teens in their care and 109 were cases of youths assaulting their peers.
The reports of assaults are not conclusions but accusations, some of which juvenile-justice officials say are unfounded. The department would not provide the outcome of specific cases because, officials told the paper, that information was protected in "investigatory files."
The Maryland State Police, which investigates accusations of assaults at the facilities, said they could not provide information on the cases because they involve juveniles.
The roots of the violence have been known for years. Guards at the facilities are paid poorly and receive little training. Confrontations between them and juveniles often escalate into violence.
Teens often wait for weeks or even months to be placed in outside programs that deal with their problems, adding to their frustration. And about 25 percent of the youths suffer from severe mental illness, but are left virtually untreated.
The Department of Juvenile Justice is making changes to decrease jail populations and improve mental health services, which should reduce violence in the facilities, Mrs. Townsend said.
Last week, the lieutenant governor announced that if conditions at the Victor Cullen Center did not improve, she would consider closing it.
"We are not where we need to be," she said. "But we know where we want to go, and we're going to get there."
Last year, at least four guards from Victor Cullen were charged with assaulting juveniles, and two others were charged with sexually abusing youths at the center. At least six guards have been fired this year after accusations of physical assaults.
Juvenile-justice officials said they had no information on any criminal charges against guards at Hickey and Cheltenham.
Vincent Schiraldi, executive director of the nonprofit Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in Washington, said the jails, which are designed to hold 235 to 255 juveniles, should be closed.
"It's my fear that what we're seeing is a cycle of scandal, inadequate reform, a dying out of the scandal, deterioration and more scandal," he said. "The governor and lieutenant governor have to get serious about a long-term fix."


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