Juvenile Services' authority to place offenders upheld Court orders for Pa. treatments reversed; budget concerns cited


ANNAPOLIS -- Juvenile Court judges can decide what kind of treatment a youthful offender should receive, but only the Department of Juvenile Services has the authority to decide where he gets it, the Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

The decision overturned court orders in three Baltimore cases to send juvenile offenders to a private reformatory in Pennsylvania, with Juvenile Services picking up the bill.

Judges can recommend a type of treatment, the unanimous court decided. But it is the prerogative of state officials, charged with controlling their own budget, to decide which facility could best provide that treatment at a reasonable cost.

The department's budget and a three-year plan the secretary is required to draft "would be thrown into utter disarray if the secretary were obliged to spend the department's funds as dictated by a court," Judge Charles E. Orth Jr. wrote for the seven-member panel.

The ruling was a relief to Juvenile Services officials, said Diane Hutchins, director of government relations for the department. "There really wouldn't be any way that we could figure a budget, not knowing what judge would send whom where," she explained.

But the decision also handcuffs judges and prosecutors searching for treatment for young offenders, complained Stuart O. Simms, Baltimore state's attorney.

And it raises a larger question, added Washington County Circuit Judge John C. Corderman, who has ordered specific facilities for at least two juveniles.

"The bigger question is, when is the state going to provide [Juvenile Services] with adequate resources to do the job it requires?" he asked.

In the cases decided yesterday, judges had ordered that juvenile offenders be placed at Glen Mills School in Concordville, Pa. Maryland's highest court decided to review all three cases at the same time because of their similarities. In each case, judges had placed the youth in the custody of Juvenile Services "to be delivered to the appropriate . . . facility," then wrote at the bottom of each order that the youth was to be "placed at the Glen Mills School."

Lawyers for the department, which pays for the care of juvenile offenders, argued that the judges could not force the agency to spend $30,000 a year to enroll a youth at Glen Mills when another program was available in Maryland. Ironically, it would cost nearly twice that to keep a youth for a year at Maryland's much-maligned Charles H. Hickey School in Cub Hill. However, Juvenile Services officials have said that the youngsters at issue in yesterday's ruling do not need to be held at Hickey. They have argued that the youths could be handled at other Maryland programs that are less expensive than either Hickey or Glen Mills.

But Mr. Simms said that Maryland is "ill-equipped to deal with a small segment of" juvenile offenders who need some restrictions, though not Hickey's grim facilities. And while "there is the technical possibility" that such placements could become expensive, he added, "there was never any contention that we were bleeding the treasury."

Budgetary considerations aside, the court said, the method devised by the General Assembly to handle juvenile cases "shines bright and clear" in the language of the statutes: The judiciary decides whether charges against a youth are proven and may commit that youth for treatment, but the Juvenile Services Department decides how the order should be carried out.

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