Robinson set to stay on at youth agency; Governor expected to formally name him department head today; He's been temporary chief; Bills to overhaul Juvenile Justice in danger in Senate


Former Maryland public safety chief Bishop L. Robinson, who was brought in last year to temporarily oversee the state's troubled juvenile justice agency, will be formally named secretary of the department today, officials said.

Along with Robinson, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to name other top officials to run a department racked late last year by reports of mismanagement and physical abuse.

Robinson, who could not be reached to comment last night, enjoys a strong reputation among legislators for his oversight of the state's prison system for much of the 1990s.

Today's appointments will come as a package of legislation to overhaul the Department of Juvenile Justice is in danger of dying in a Senate committee.

One measure, which the Glendening administration opposes, would create a 14-member independent oversight commission to monitor the department.

A second bill would require that juveniles be sent to treatment programs within a set time, a proposal aimed at preventing youths from being held for months in detention centers awaiting placement.

Juvenile advocates said the bills are important to ensure the agency continues reforms that Robinson began in recent months. But key legislators said such measures could hamstring Robinson's flexibility.

"The concept of the bills is good," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel Democrat who is a key lawmaker on juvenile justice issues on the Judicial Proceedings Committee. "But I don't think it's appropriate to do them until [Robinson] gets there and gets his team together."

The bills, sponsored by Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, cleared the House but have languished in the Senate committee.

Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, also a member of the committee, supports the idea of creating the independent commission.

"I think oversight is necessary. If [the bill] doesn't pass this year, you might see it again next year," said Hughes, a Baltimore Democrat.

Robinson, a former state public safety secretary and Baltimore police chief, oversaw a task force late last year that reviewed the juvenile justice agency's boot camps in Western Maryland. The review occurred after reports detailed how guards physically abused youths at the camps.

After the task force issued a scathing report, five top department officials, including Secretary Gilberto de Jesus, resigned or were fired, and Glendening asked Robinson to step in to run the department temporarily.

Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, served with Robinson on the task force. She said he earned her respect because of his experience and willingness to take on a difficult task.

"We're hoping that he can form a leadership team that understands the justice side, but also the needs of the young people," she said.

Glendening, in his appointments today, is expected to name Phillis K. Hildreth as one of Robinson's deputies. Hildreth is chief counsel in the state public defender's office and has served on a juvenile justice advisory council for 10 years.

Robinson, 73, recently concluded negotiations with his employer, Lockheed Martin Corp., about ending his contract with it. That cleared the way for him to accept the secretary's job permanently, state officials said.

A Senate committee that must confirm the governor's top appointees is expected to move quickly to ratify Robinson before the General Assembly adjourns Monday night.

Since taking the job, Robinson has promised major changes in the agency and has called for demolition of the overcrowded Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County.

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