- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

BALTIMORE — State officials announced leadership changes at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center yesterday, just days after a state agency reported chaotic and unsafe conditions inside the facility.

Kenneth Montague, secretary of juvenile services, also said the state-run facility will try to keep the number of detainees at 96, instead of 144, in response to reports that the new $60 million center is understaffed. He said the center will try to keep the number of detainees down until enough staff is hired.

“This is a difficult population for us,” Mr. Montague said at a press conference at the troubled juvenile detention center.

Reginald Garnett, who was the assistant director of detention, will become the acting director of detention. He will replace John Dowdy, who is going to another facility in the system.

Mr. Montague, who described the changes as “a major shift for the department,” also said Charles Newman, who was the juvenile counselor supervisor, will be the center’s acting deputy director of detention.

Mr. Montague said officials have been “looking for individuals who could provide a level of leadership and direction — a sense of mission for the department, especially in the area of residential services.”

Mr. Montague said the changes were not prompted by the report, which became public Monday. The report mentioned an escape, fighting, suicide attempts and a barricade by detainees who set a fire as recent cases of unrest.

The former head of the facility, Phyllis Hildreth, repeatedly wrote memos warning of serious staffing shortages.

Mr. Montague said the department has been aware of the problems and has been trying to address them for some time.

But Linda Heisner, deputy director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said she doubted state officials would have responded as they have if the report had not been made available.

“They started with a plan, but until that report comes out they don’t talk about it and they don’t act on it, and all of a sudden: ‘Here comes the publicity, we’d better do something,’” she said.

Mr. Montague also said he didn’t tell Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. about specific incidents cited in the report, although the department was aware of the problems.

Mr. Montague faced a barrage of questions from reporters during the press conference in the lobby of the facility.

With a line of department officials behind him, he eventually was led away by department spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards, who cut off questions. But reporters chased after the secretary, asking him for more information. Mr. Montague later returned to answer more questions.

The press conference came two days after the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services said it will temporarily re-assign additional staff members to the center from other state facilities. The department also announced that additional safety equipment will be issued to staffers.

“We’re redeploying staff from some of the other facilities to come work here until our hiring process gets to the point of us having the staff hired who will work here,” Mr. Montague said.

The department has been scrambling to respond to a scathing report by the independent juvenile justice monitor that cited “threats to life, health and safety” in the facility, which opened almost a year ago.

Mr. Ehrlich ordered the leaders of several state agencies and departments to address the safety issues at the center.

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