Oak Hill construction halt sought

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold yesterday urged the state attorney general to halt the District of Columbia's construction of a $42 million juvenile detention center in Laurel, arguing that the city did not get state permission to proceed.

Noting the conclusion of his legal staff, Leopold said in a news release that the District of Columbia is prohibited from rebuilding Oak Hill Youth Center without written consent from the secretary of juvenile services, and that could be grounds to sue. Construction on the 888-acre wooded tract just south of Fort Meade began in September.

"As soon as it came to my attention about this avenue for a remedy, I thought it was appropriate to act on this expeditiously," Leopold said.

But the attorney general's office may not have jurisdiction because the facility is on federal land, said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Also, state law requires that out-of-state governments seek written approval for adult correctional facilities, not juvenile facilities, she said.

She said the basis for that is a May 1985 letter by then-Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, who said that while the legislature intended that juvenile facilities such as Oak Hill get written approval, a new bill would be needed to clarify that issue.

Guillory said the attorney general's office has not received a formal request from Leopold, and she questioned why he is raising legal objections six months after building started.

"When and if we ever get a letter from the county executive, we will respond to him directly," she added.

County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson said Sachs' letter affirms his argument.

"We remain confident that the statute as written is clear in its application to the Oak Hill juvenile facility," he said.

But Donald W. DeVore, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services, inquired through the attorney general about his role after learning of the new Oak Hill center, spokeswoman Tammy Brown said.

"Our understanding is that we don't have a stake in it," she said.

Maryland officials, led by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, have lobbied to close the Oak Hill facility and move it to the District of Columbia. Cardin has introduced a bill that would divide the acreage between the county, for parkland and development, and the National Security Agency, for a security buffer.

But District of Columbia officials have faced mounting pressure to build a new center as they seek to comply with a consent decree to close Oak Hill by next year.

Across a state highway from NSA, Oak Hill has been burdened by management problems, drug use, crowding and escapes. It has housed as many as 240 juveniles.

Reggie Sanders, a spokesman for the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, referred questions to Mayor Adrian Fenty's office, which did not respond to requests for comment.

District of Columbia officials told Maryland officials in April of their plans to build a replacement center, although officials in Maryland did not learn of that construction until notified in January by The Sun.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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