- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland’s juvenile detention centers are crowded, understaffed and violence-prone, according to a report by an independent monitor appointed in January by the Ehrlich administration.

Staff members at one center abused youths and allowed them to fight each other, according to the report.

Other problems cited in the report by Katherine A. Perez include a lack of educational and other activities to keep young offenders occupied, improper and excessive use of seclusion, and at some facilities a lack of supplies such as socks, undershirts and soap.

Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. said the report assessed conditions from October through December, and his department has “made significant changes addressing the independent monitor’s concerns” since then.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, promised to reform the system when he ran for governor in 2002. Delegate Bobby A. Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat, said the report shows that Mr. Ehrlich has failed to fulfill his promise.

“Kids are getting just as bad if not worse treatment than they used to get,” Mr. Zirkin said. “There has been no progress. They’ve had four years to build small regional facilities of the type that have worked in other states, and the shovel’s still in the garage.”

The report is the first by Miss Perez, whose office was moved by the state legislature from the executive branch to the Attorney General’s Office, overriding a veto by the governor.

Juvenile services spokesman Edward Hopkins said the agency is working to recruit more staff and reduce the number of youths at the centers.

“It’s not an environment that people want to work in,” he said.

Salaries at the Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center in Montgomery County, a 57-bed detention center that houses both boys and girls, have been adjusted, for example. Noyes now has 29 direct-care workers on staff — six more than it had last December, Mr. Hopkins said.

Mr. Zirkin blamed Mr. Ehrlich for failing to reform the system, saying Mr. Montague hasn’t been given enough money.

However, Mr. Hopkins said Mr. Ehrlich “gave us a clear mission to build a new child-first culture centered on treatment and education” and said the agency is focused on achieving that goal.

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