ANNAPOLIS -- When a private contractor took over the state's facility for juvenile delinquents, it kept the fences, but it may not have kept the right to prosecute youths who won't stay behind them.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has been advised that current laws don't make any provision for charging juveniles who escape from private detention facilities.
As a result, the committee yesterday heard an emergency Senate bill that would define the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Cub Hill as a "place of detention" so that escapees can be charged.
The committee heard the bill without comment.
Staff members of the Department of Juvenile Services, the bill's sponsor, said the department insists that it still may charge youths who flee from the privately run center, which was taken over Sept. 1 by Rebound Inc., a Colorado company.
Diane Hutchins, the department's lobbyist, said the bill was drafted so that the agency could be "absolutely sure" it had the authority to prosecute escapees.
She said the bill was not a response to a spate of escapes that occurred since Rebound took over. "The bill was drafted months ago," she said.
Some 23 young men have escaped from the Hickey School since Sept. 1. All have been charged with felonies, said Jacqui Lampel, a juvenile services spokeswoman.
Twenty-one youths escaped from Hickey during Rebound's first 10 weeks, more than twice the number of escapes during the eight months the state ran the school in 1991. Two more fled during the recent holidays.
Four of those who escaped broke out of the secured section of Hickey, a compound surrounded by electronic fences topped with barbed wire. But the others fled while being transported, or simply walked away from non-secure cottages that house less dangerous youths on the 215-acre campus.