Agency to seek bids for juvenile facility


The Ehrlich administration is preparing to seek bids for a private contractor to run a new 48-bed treatment program for Maryland's most deeply troubled juvenile offenders -- possibly at the Victor Cullen Academy in Frederick County, officials said yesterday.

Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services, said the agency plans to advertise for bids in late March or early April and hopes to have a program in operation by this fall.

"The plan is for a 48-bed, secure facility with locked doors to service deeply troubled kids," he said.

The program would serve youths statewide and could be located at the state-owned Victor Cullen Academy or at another site if a private contractor wants to propose one, Hopkins said. He said the department does not have any estimate of costs.

The Victor Cullen Academy, located in a rural area of Sabillasville, near the Pennsylvania state line, has been closed since 2002.

A private company that ran it under a contract with the state was cited by auditors for falling far short of requirements for mental health care, education and financial controls.

Hopkins emphasized the state agency has made no decisions yet on where to locate a separate, regional detention center for juvenile offenders from Baltimore City and Baltimore County that also is in the planning stages.

He also said that rumors the agency has decided to put the juvenile detention center on the grounds of Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville aren't true.

"While Spring Grove is on the list of state properties we're looking at, it's not a likely candidate," Hopkins said. "We've not selected a site. We've just begun the process."

He said the residential treatment program for juveniles that is planned for Victor Cullen or a similar site would serve the same types of youths previously housed at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced last summer that the state would close most of the long-troubled Hickey program by Nov. 1, 2005. The administration met the deadline.

But the lack of alternative residential treatment programs has left state officials scrambling ever since to find places for youths who would have gone to Hickey. Many have lengthy arrest records, including for such violent offenses as armed robbery and assault.

Some have been sent home or to group homes in their communities while others have been sent to treatment facilities in other states. Dozens more have languished in juvenile jails for weeks awaiting placement.

Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he supports reopening the Victor Cullen Academy to ease those pressures.

"They could have opened that up before they prematurely closed down Hickey," said Zirkin, who is lead sponsor on a series of juvenile services reform proposals in the General Assembly.

But Stacey Gurian-Sherman of JJ FAIR, a group that advocates for the families of youths in the juvenile justice system, said opening more facilities won't solve the core problems.

She said the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center has been "fraught" with disaster since it opened in 2003 because those in charge of juvenile services "have no clue" on how to keep children in their care safe from harm.

"This governor has proved that a shiny new facility like the one in Baltimore is not the answer, unless you have the best and the brightest running those facilities," Gurian-Sherman said. "We still have the same old people being recycled like dirty water."

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