- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

BALTIMORE Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend yesterday promised to work closely with federal investigators in a probe of the state's juvenile-justice department, which she oversees.

“I think we've made a lot of progress, and there's a lot more progress to be made,” Mrs. Townsend said after a news conference announcing a program to monitor juvenile offenders.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating conditions at Maryland's juvenile-justice facilities to determine whether the state has violated the civil rights of about 600 incarcerated offenders.

The investigation is the second Justice Department probe of an agency headed by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. A federal grand jury also has been trying to determine whether an anti-crime agency overseen by Mrs. Townsend has misused federal funds.

While Mrs. Townsend has described the first probe as “political garbage,” she said she did not think the latest probe was politically motivated.

Mrs. Townsend said the state's juvenile-justice facilities have increased educational opportunities and mental health treatment. She also said fewer young people are in the facilities.

“We want to make sure that the kids are getting the mental health treatment they need, the education they need and that they're safe,” she said.

Mrs. Townsend steered clear of blaming Republicans for spurring the probe in an election year. But Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop Robinson said he found the timing of the probe “troubling,” saying it could be politically motivated.

“It could be,” Mr. Robinson said. “I'm just asking that question, too. What is the motivation when people know for a fact what we've done in this short period of time?”

The agency has a history of trouble, including beatings of teenagers by guards in boot camps, which have since closed, and violence by guards in the three largest detention facilities, one of which has since closed.

Yesterday, Mrs. Townsend decried those incidents.

In April, Vanessa Salmeron, 15, hanged herself after being ordered into seclusion at the Thomas J.S. Waxter Children's Center in Laurel.

Difficulties in Maryland's juvenile-justice system date to at least 1995, when a national advocate for youthful offenders toured the Cheltenham Detention Center in Prince George's County and declared the facility one of the worst he had ever inspected.

In 1999, the Baltimore Sun published a series of articles about beatings by guards and other violence at several youth boot camps, a program championed by Mrs. Townsend. Three of the camps were closed, the secretary of the agency was fired, and Mr. Robinson, a former corrections secretary and Baltimore police chief, was hired to institute reforms.

Other articles detailed abuse of teenagers by guards at Cheltenham, the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick. State officials have since closed the Cullen Center, and they are moving to close Cheltenham.

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