- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

BALTIMORE - Maryland must take measures to address violence and mental health concerns at a juvenile detention center under a settlement with the Justice Department filed in federal court yesterday.

The agreement, the latest federal involvement in Maryland juvenile facilities, was reached months after federal investigators discovered staffing shortages and inadequate behavior management plans at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center. Investigators found the detention center, which opened in 2003, was being run in an unconstitutional manner.

State Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore and Assistant U.S. Attorney General Wan J. Kim made details of the settlement public in front of the facility.

Mr. DeVore said $138,000 has been budgeted to put the center in compliance with the agreement. He said the facility already has changed its educational approach and hired a contractor to provide mental health services.

“We have several very perplexing and challenging problems here,” Mr. DeVore said. “I don’t want to say that we don’t youth-on-youth violence, the amount of seclusion that we use and our need to increase our amount of responsive programming for the kids that are here.”

But Mr. DeVore, who stepped into the job earlier this year, said he thinks a strategic plan to improve the center has been put into place.

The agreement expires in a year, and Mr. DeVore said he was hopeful the problems will be addressed by then. Mr. Kim said he thinks that will be enough time.

“We have legal avenues along the way should those goals not be met,” Mr. Kim said.

The settlement focuses on suicide prevention, protecting youths from harm, mental health and special education. It makes the facility part of a previous settlement involving the Cheltenham Youth Facility and Charles H. Hickey School, two other Maryland facilities for juvenile offenders where investigators found problems.

Maryland’s juvenile justice system has been in bad shape for years.

Last year, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. closed the Hickey school, which had been criticized for civil rights violations, after reaching an agreement with the Justice Department. That settlement was the culmination of an investigation that the Justice Department began in August 2002.

At the Baltimore facility, the state is being required to improve reporting incidents of youth-on-youth violence. It also must train staff in behavior and crisis management, as well as provide adequate staffing and suicide-proof rooms.

In addition, the state will have to take measures to provide eligible youths with special-education services, adequate screening and identification of special-education needs in the 144-bed facility. There were 129 youths in the center yesterday.

The Justice Department will assign a monitoring team to evaluate progress.

The state has been in discussions with the Justice Department about the facility since August, when federal investigators issued a report on conditions there. The report found that youths “suffer significant harm and risk of harm” because of a lack of staff and inadequate behavior management and treatment plans.

The report also criticized the state-run center because the assault rate among youths was 47 percent higher than the national average for such facilities.

The facility also was criticized for failing to adequately protect youths against suicide and for shortcomings in providing adequate mental health treatment and other services.

The report was based on findings from inspections in fall 2005.

The Justice Department started investigating the center after advocates and others said that youths were being mistreated and that the facility was not safe.

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