Contract violations at Hickey settled


The state Department of Juvenile Services and the private contractor that runs the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County disclosed yesterday that the company will pay the state $792,470 to settle claims resulting from numerous contract violations at the facility.

As it announced the settlement, the state released a recent performance audit that detailed the company's failure to live up to the terms of the five-year, $79 million contract to run the troubled juvenile detention center.

Hickey has been the site of numerous assaults and other violent incidents in recent years, resulting in the ouster of its top administrator late last year. Sarasota, Fla.-based Corrections Services Corp. is the parent corporation of Youth Services International, which won the lucrative privatization contract in 1999.

Lee Towers, a department spokesman, said yesterday the state is confident the problems have been corrected.

"There will be continual monitoring," he said. "We will continue to send auditors out there."

The departmental audit covered the period from April 2000 through September 2001. It found that the company did not live up to its promises in the areas of staffing, training, record-keeping, health and education. Among its findings:

In almost every case, the company failed to provide the required 40 hours of in-service training to staff members employed at the school before the contract. The audit found that of 108 existing employees, only one received full training while 34 got none at all. Meanwhile, 14 percent of 58 new employees were put on the job before completing their 40 hours.

The contractor failed to provide adequate supervision and record-keeping when juveniles were put on suicide watches.

The company failed to fully staff 19 percent of the posts specified in its contract in fiscal 2000 and 24 percent in fiscal 2001. The auditors found that 60 percent of "incident reports" - detailing rule violations, use of force or similar matters - occurred on shifts that were short-staffed.

Youth Services did not meet all of the educational requirements in the contract, including some related to the length of each school day, the library collection, the number of textbooks and teacher qualifications.

The findings were similar to those of an audit last year of the Victor Cullen Center, a juvenile detention center in Frederick County that was also run by Correctional Services. The company was required to pay the state more than $600,000 after that audit, which helped lead to a decision to scale back Cullen's operations severely.

Company officials did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

Towers said most of the $792,470 was compensation to the state for services that weren't provided. He said $37,000 of the total represented a penalty for escapes from the facility.

The company will receive a refund check of about $50,000 from the department because officials had been withholding almost $843,000 in contractual payments during the dispute.

Hickey has a capacity of 330 juveniles but only 228 were being detained there yesterday, Towers said.

The company's poor performance on the audit will not block its chances of winning an extension when its contract comes up for renewal in 2004, Towers said.

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