- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced his plan yesterday to reform the state's juvenile-justice system, which he said "suffered failure after failure" under his Democratic opponent's stewardship.
Mr. Ehrlich said the system, overseen by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has been plagued by problems, including "boot camp beating, gross mismanagement, escapes, suicides, violence against both staff and children," as well as a lack of substance-abuse and mental-health treatment.
"This tragedy lies at the doorstep of the Glendening-Townsend administration," Mr. Ehrlich said.
Mr. Ehrlich describes his 40-page plan as an attempt to overhaul the juvenile-intake system and change the education, drug treatment, mental health and institutionalization of underaged criminal offenders.
But a spokeswoman for the Townsend campaign said the congressman's plan was a fairly liberal set of policies tailored toward a mostly Democratic state. She also said the plan included nothing particularly new.
"Most of these things have either been proposed or implemented by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend," said Kate Philips.
Mr. Ehrlich's plan would incorporate what he calls a "wraparound" approach, focusing on helping children by renaming the program the Department of Juvenile Services. Among the proposals:
Perform a full diagnostic assessment of every child in his or her first encounter with the juvenile system, documenting drug use and addiction, and physical and mental health.
Expand the use of non-adversarial courts where nonviolent children with drug-use problems get supervision, treatment and rehabilitation.
Have the state Department of Education take over educational responsibilities at the DJJ's nine current schools and develop a way for truants to return to public school after leaving juvenile service care.
Expand the number of mental-health counselors to achieve a caseload of one for every 25 children, enhance the state's mental-health services and expedite staff training in suicide prevention.
Mr. Ehrlich also said he would create a "middle ground" for youths under 18 years old who now are housed with adult criminals. He says those teens disproportionately blacks are not rehabilitated and likely to later enter an adult life of crime.
Mr. Ehrlich proposes instead that judges decide to send some of these teens back into a correctional youth facility that resembles the adult facilities but would offer vocational training, educational programs and counseling.
"These are savable kids," he said.
The current juvenile-justice system costs about $180 million a year to implement. Mr. Ehrlich said his proposals would total about $200 million a year, with the difference made up in a combination of federal funds, grants from foundations and state revenues generated by his proposal to legalize slot machines. Some of the costs also would be shifted to the education department.
Ms. Philips said Mrs. Townsend has worked hard to reform the system. She countered Mr. Ehrlich's claim that it's a failure by citing a 27 percent decrease in violent juvenile crime from 1996 to 2000.


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