- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

BALTIMORE — State officials say they have made substantial progress in cleaning up a mess they inherited in April when they took over the Charles H. Hickey Jr. school from a contractor who had been running the juvenile prison.

However, Kenneth Montague, Maryland’s secretary of juvenile services, said last week that “many, many challenges and hurdles” remain.

“Past neglect continues to present a challenge to us in terms of the pace in which we would like to make changes,” Mr. Montague said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and 10 legislators visited the Baltimore County facility Thursday to see what has been done in the past three months and to talk about plans.

Mr. Montague said the number of boys at Hickey, which includes a high-security area and cottages with lower levels of security, has been reduced from 230 on April 1 to an average of about 170.

Delegate Robert Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat, agreed that improvements have been made since April, but said the only way to solve continuing problems in the juvenile justice system is to replace big facilities such as Hickey with small regional centers.

“What we should be doing is razing these to the ground,” Mr. Zirkin said, pointing to the buildings surrounding an open field that give Hickey the look of a seedy private boarding school.

When the state took control of the school from Florida-based Correctional Services Corp./Youth Services International at the beginning of April, Mr. Montague said he was “shocked and surprised” by the condition of the facility.

He said Thursday that the state found “a really abhorrent situation” in one cottage, which was shut down for renovations.

The administration also moved quickly to improve education offered to the boys at Hickey, Mr. Montague said. They now are receiving six hours of schooling five days a week. Few students were getting more than three hours in the classroom when the private contractor was in charge.

The Justice Department, in a report issued in April, sharply criticized the state for conditions it found at Hickey and a second juvenile prison at Cheltenham in Prince George’s County. The report said boys frequently were abused and beaten by staffers and other boys, and were given inadequate medical and mental health care.

Mr. Ehrlich spoke with four Hickey students and tossed a football with them for a few minutes before attending a press conference with Mr. Montague, legislators and other state officials.

Money spent on educating juveniles “will make streets safer” and is a terrific investment for juveniles and for taxpayers, Mr. Ehrlich said.

The state Department of Education is preparing to take responsibility for educating students at Hickey. State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the agency will focus on reading, math, computer literacy and life skills.

The goal is to have one teacher and teacher’s aide for every 12 students, she said.

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