The state's Department of Juvenile Justice is investigating whether a teen-ager who was involved in a gang rape last year received adequate counseling before he was released from the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School by a Montgomery County judge this week.
The judge released the 16-year-old boy after determining that he was not receiving the type of sex offender counseling he needed while he was at the school in Baltimore County for 14 months.
The decision Tuesday by District Judge Dennis McHugh to release the boy to receive counseling while in the care of relatives prompted sharp criticism from a Montgomery County prosecutor, along with others who questioned the lack of resources of the juvenile justice system.
The Hickey School in Cub Hill has been under scrutiny from state lawmakers and others for a series of security problems in recent months that included several escapes and the rape of a staff member.
In the Montgomery County case, the boy, who had brain damage at birth and has a low IQ, was one of six teen-age boys who lured a 15-year-old girl from a bus stop in Silver Spring to a vacant apartment, where she was raped, sodomized and beaten.
Bob Kannenberg, spokesman for the juvenile justice department, said yesterday his office will investigate what kind of counseling the boy received while at Hickey and whether it was adequate. He declined to comment further on the judge's decision to release the boy.
Yesterday, Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney John J. McCarthy said he opposed the boy's release from Hickey because "the nature of the offense was about as brutal a sexual offense as you can imagine."
He noted that the other boys involved were convicted as adults and all but one received life sentences. The fifth boy is awaiting sentencing.
McCarthy and other critics of the juvenile justice system said yesterday that the boy's release highlights the system's shortcomings in offering adequate psychological counseling to troubled youths.
"It's very frustrating for us that he was waived down to the juvenile court," McCarthy said. "He's now in the system that has very little or nothing to offer him."
State Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, in whose district the Hickey School is located, said, "We have mental health hospitals with empty beds and we have a judge in Montgomery County who released a kid back into the community?"
"The judge should be a little more sensitive to what the community's fears might be about a kid involved in a gang rape being placed in the custody of his parents."
Bromwell said that the Hickey school is limited in the types of clinical care that troubled youths receive and that the juvenile justice system should have found him adequate counseling in a more secure setting.
Susan Leviton, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who represents children in juvenile court, said, "It's not a problem with Hickey, but it's a problem that the state doesn't have the full services it needs for kids."
Leviton applauded the judge's decision to take the boy out of the Hickey school so he can receive proper counseling, even though it won't be in an institution.
"Half the time the kids don't get services they need. And judge's orders never get enforced. But this judge is checking to make sure the kid gets what he needs," she said.
Yesterday, the boy's lawyer, assistant public defender Jeff Blumberg, said the sex offenders program at Hickey is for chronic sex offenders. His client needs more individualized counseling, he said.
The boy will be living with an aunt and uncle and checking in with a juvenile probation officer three times a day.