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Water service restored at juvenile detention facility in Baltimore County

Water service was restored to a state juvenile detention center Wednesday evening after a four-day outage, but advocates for the boys held there said they still had questions about how officials handled the problems.

Trucks arrived Wednesday to supply emergency water to the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, allowing some of the boys there to take their first showers in days and to flush toilets properly.

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By evening, full water service had been restored, according to Jay Cleary, chief of staff of the state Department of Juvenile Services.

A water line problem near the detention center knocked out service to the facility on Sunday. Boys at the facility went without showers and used buckets to flush toilets.

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The problem emerged during the long period of below-freezing weather, which caused water mains to break and meters to freeze across the Baltimore area.

Maurice Vann, the juvenile justice police director at Advocates for Children and Youth, asked why the Juvenile Services Department did not move the boys to another facility when it discovered the problems with the water.

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a single administrator at Hickey who would have stayed in their homes under those conditions,” he said. “When the state takes custody of a child into the juvenile justice system, they're essentially supposed to act as the parent or guardian of the child.”

Stephen Bergman, acting director of the Juvenile Protection Division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, visited the detention center Wednesday. He said conditions seemed generally to be improving.

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By noon, he said, boys in one of the three units had been able to take showers using water pumped in from a truck. About 50 other boys were expected to be able to wash in the afternoon.

“They’re very happy that’s taking place,” Bergman said.

A second truck was on site later in the day, Cleary said, so two of the three units at the center had running water. Food was prepared offsite and there was plenty of bottled drinking water, Cleary said

“DJS will continue to work with local agencies and closely monitor the situation to ensure that conditions at Hickey are safe and appropriate for the well-being of youth in the department’s care,” he wrote in an email. The department had emergency plans in place if new problems arose.

A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said the governor’s office was aware of the situation at the center and expressed no concern with how it had been handled by the juvenile services department.

“The Department, in their expertise, made the decision that keeping the residents at the current location was the best course of action in regards to both health and public safety,” the spokesman, Doug Mayer, wrote in an email. “In addition, the Department has been working closely with the Baltimore County Department of Health to ensure resident safety.”

Cleary said Tuesday that the department didn’t move the boys because their “essential needs” were being met. Vann said that position makes sense only if essential needs do not include running water.

“We all know that not to be true,” Vann said. “It’s very difficult to believe that under the conditions as described to me their essential needs were being met.”

Del. Christopher R. West, a Republican whose district includes the facility, said he didn’t think the problems sounded especially serious, but officials should probably have organized a way for the boys to have showers somewhere offsite sooner.

“After three days you get a little rank,” he said.

The Baltimore Department of Public Works provides water to Baltimore County. Cleary said public works crews went to the site Wednesday morning to fix the line and restore service.

Bergman said he planned to continue monitoring the problems.

“I’m not going to feel totally comfortable until the situation’s fixed,” he said.

Vann said the problems with water at the detention center highlighted a wider indifference to children in the juvenile justice system, and sent a message to the boys at Hickey that officials had little interest in their well-being.

“These are already children who have demonstrated they're in the most need and most need the services,” he said. “We’re more concerned with locking up, arresting, removing than rehabilitation, reintegrating functioning young people into the community.”

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