ANNAPOLIS -- A new and scathing report portrays the chronically troubled Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for juvenile delinquents as a "violent training school," and members of a Senate committee said last night that putting it in private hands or closing it may be the only answer.
"It's a very harsh, violent world," said Lawrence B. Coshnear of the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center, which sponsored the 20-page report. "The whole thing doesn't work at all."
Such criticism is nothing new for the Baltimore County facility, which houses about 300 youth offenders. Its sometimes lax security, disgruntled employees, unsanitary conditions and weak educational program have made Hickey a perennial headache for the state.
Child advocates told members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee yesterday that despite recent efforts by the state Department of Juvenile Services little improvement has been made.
"If I ran across this kind of treatment in people's homes when I was a police major, I'd have locked up the parents," said Patricia Hanges, a former Baltimore County police officer and volunteer at the school.
"It costs the state $60,000 per student per year at Hickey. Are we crazy? We have to be mad to perpetuate a program like this," she said.
Susan Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth, said during the last six months of 1990, Hickey staff reported 43 violent incidents between residents, 13 attempts by residents to hang themselves and 30 youths who cut themselves.
In recent visits to Hickey, advocates said they found young women who had reportedly been handcuffed to stationary objects or kept locked in a room for a month at a time as punishment.
Typically, the female residents had a history of sexual abuse before coming to Hickey, where advocates said facilities for girls are particularly horrendous.
The girls would "mouth off to people and get locked up for 30 days" when they really needed therapy, she said.
Last month, Gov. William Donald Schaefer endorsed putting Hickey under private management and recently created a 16-member panel to recommend a course of action.
Legislators expressed hope the panel can develop a better environment modeled after the private Glen Mills School in Concordville, Pa.
"Why is this institution still open?" said Sen. Decatur Trotter, D-Prince George's. "It's a liability to the state. Everything in there is a probable [law]suit."
Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, who recently was appointed juvenile services secretary, said as a first step toward improving Hickey she would move all 11 of the school's female residents to other facilities as soon as possible.