When the state assumed control of its sprawling Charles H. Hickey Jr. School from a private contractor on April 1, it found an out-of-control wreck of a juvenile detention center where housing units reeked of urine, graffiti covered walls, and locks didn't work on the doors of the rooms of dozens of potentially dangerous offenders.
Conditions at the state facility in Baltimore County were even worse under
the management of Correctional Services Corp./Youth Services International
than previously disclosed, an investigation by The Sun has found and state
officials now acknowledge.
Malfunctioning motion sensors couldn't detect escapes. One dormitory was in
such bad shape that it had to be shut down. Scores of youths with not enough
to do were stashing scissors and pens for weapons. Dozens of the adults in
charge had criminal or drug-abuse histories that should have prevented them
from working at the program for juvenile offenders.
State Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. says he hadn't
realized how bad things were until the Florida-based company left.
"We were shocked and surprised," Montague said in an interview this week.
The state had been paying the contractor about $16 million a year to run
Hickey, home to about 185 boys, including some of Maryland's most troubled and
violent juvenile lawbreakers. Though the population has varied, the company
was getting at least $60,000 for each youth per year - several times the cost
of tuition at an elite private high school.
Montague said the state knew about some of the problems but that "a lot of
it was not visible, was not something you could see physically. The sensors on
the security fence weren't working. The phone system wouldn't support enough
He said that the company left virtually no accounting of how and when
millions of dollars in state money was spent. "There was no budget," Montague
Since April 1, he said, the state has been working diligently to make
repairs, clean, paint, remove graffiti and fix broken toilets that contributed
to the urine smell.
A prominent child advocate says it was the state's responsibility all along
to know how bad conditions had become.
The state must ultimately be held accountable for Hickey's failings, even
though it was managed by a private company, said Bart Lubow of the Annie E.
Casey Foundation, which aids disadvantaged children.
"If you're going to go the private route, you have to monitor," Lubow said.
"The state had a contractual obligation to oversee the contract with these
folks. The fact that you contract something out doesn't mean you wash your
hands of responsibility."
Said Montague: "Look, I'm sure there are plenty of things we could have
done better ... But when things were brought to my attention, we took action."
Asked whether the state should have broken the contractor's latest
five-year contract before it expired on March 31, Montague replied, "I think
had I known the full scope of deficiencies there, I would have seriously moved
in that direction."
He said the state is withholding $1.8 million that the vendor has requested
for Hickey expenditures because there isn't documentation to prove the money
was spent as claimed.
Also missing were personnel records to inform the state whether the
320-member staff had proper credentials and was trained to deal with youths.
The state had to conduct new background checks on all the workers, finding
that 40 were unfit to remain on the job.
Calls to several officials at CSC/YSI seeking comment for this article were
Hickey, on a 200-acre campus a mile southeast of Loch Raven Reservoir,
serves several purposes in the state's juvenile justice system. It is a
detention center for youths awaiting trial, a holding area for those waiting
for placement in various treatment programs, and a training school -
classrooms and all - for young offenders serving sentences that can last more
than a year.
The population, all male, includes youths charged or convicted of crimes
that include assault and armed robbery.