The Baltimore Sun

Fixing the disarray at DJS

The Sun is to be commended for its recent articles exposing the disarray in the Department of Juvenile Services ("Failures of DJS anger officials," April 23, and "Youths lost in juvenile system," April 22).

The children in the department's care are at a precarious and vulnerable point in their lives. The way they are dealt with at this juncture will go far to determine what happens with the rest of their lives.

In fact, given the number of youths in the system who find themselves victims or perpetrators of violence, the kind of care they receive is critical even to their immediate survival.

But physical danger in DJS facilities is not limited to the youths in DJS care. A rougher, increasingly gang-oriented clientele is coming into the system, and members of the DJS staff also find themselves victims. For instance, earlier this month, a staff member at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center was jumped by several youths and ended up hospitalized, requiring multiple stitches for a head wound.

DJS staff members bring to their work a passion for helping children in need. But as The Sun has noted, their mission is undermined when faced with untenable caseloads, insufficient training and poor management.

Furthermore, their ability to help youths succeed is undermined when DJS has a turnover rate approaching 40 percent annually among its caseworkers, as the most recent Department of Legislative Services budget analysis noted. The department also faces a 7 percent vacancy rate and skyrocketing overtime expenses.

The state will not be able to turn DJS around until it confronts these issues.

One tactic that will ensure failure is if DJS employs the often politically expedient stunt of reactive staff firings following a publicized breakdown in the system.

We've seen this "fire first, ask questions later" approach to management countless times in Maryland state service.

Secretary Donald W. DeVore has stated publicly there will be no "witch hunt" as DJS attempts to remedy the crisis it faces.

As the elected representative of Maryland state employees, AFSCME will fight to ensure that the state takes a responsible - and effective - course in getting DJS on track.

Patrick Moran, Baltimore

The writer is the director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for Maryland.

Thank you for The Sun's editorial urging improvements in the supervision of juvenile offenders in Maryland ("Supervision found wanting," April 24).

Before leaving state government service, I worked at the Department of Juvenile Services for three years. In that brief time, I encountered many conscientious and dedicated employees working with the youths. I also met a few who were burned out, overwhelmed or not up to the job.

As an agency, DJS needed better management information, better training and better support for caseworkers who are trying to do the right things, and more accountability up and down the line.

The agency also needs significantly more funding to maintain reasonable staff levels and adequate treatment services.

The Department of Juvenile Services should be commended for initiating its review of cases and taking action to correct problems.

Better supervision of DJS youths in the community will be good for public safety and good for the youths' chances of success, and might ultimately lead to fewer DJS youths in residential facilities.

Secretary Donald W. DeVore is an experienced manager in this field who has dedicated himself to improvements.

The governor, the legislature and the public should support him in his efforts, provide the required resources and then hold Mr. DeVore accountable for achieving results.

Neil Bergsman, Annapolis

The writer is a former chief financial officer for the Department of Juvenile Services who is now the director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

Depleting the crabs just has to stop

I don't get it. What part of "we are depleting the crabs from the bay" is it that many of the crabbers are not getting ("Living with the crab," April 28)?

They complain that their livelihood is being taken away. But if they keep taking and taking the crabs from the bay, that is going to happen anyway as the crab population diminishes - probably sooner rather than later.

This depletion has been going on for decades, and now some people are shaking their heads, wondering how this happened.

Is the word greed not in their vocabulary?

And what about the generations to come after them?

Will their children and grandchildren only see crabs in a museum under a caption that says: "Extinct - this crustacean was abundant in the bay, but we decided not to put the crabbers out of work, so enjoy this pretty picture of the Chesapeake blue crab instead of an actual crab"?

E.V. Salemi, Bel Air

Animal-based diets add to world hunger

It's been a leading story in major newspapers and TV news for weeks: More than 100 million people are being driven deeper into poverty by a "silent tsunami" of rising food prices, according to World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran ("Officials, aid experts discuss global hunger crisis," April 23).

A dozen countries have experienced food riots and strikes as prices for basic food staples such as rice, wheat, corn and soybeans have skyrocketed in recent months.

These price increases are driven by rising fuel and fertilizer prices, diversion of corn to produce biofuels, drought in key food-producing countries, soil depletion through overgrazing, and growing demand for meat in China and other developing nations.

The resulting hunger afflicts nearly 1 billion people, mostly women and children. It kills an astonishing 24,000 per day.

And it's not just a problem for strangers in faraway lands. It affects millions of Americans, and some U.S. stores are already limiting food sales.

The good news is that even a small shift toward a plant-based diet in the United States and other developed countries would free up enough land, water and fuel to feed everyone.

More than 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land is used to grow feed for animals.

A plant-based diet requires only 16 percent to 20 percent of the resources that the standard American diet uses.

Thus every one of us can start abating the scourge of world hunger today by reducing our consumption of meat and other animal products and by supporting food distribution agencies.

Jen Riley, Ellicott City

Slump offers time for greener designs

A round of applause is owed to the housing and economic slump.

Reporter Lorraine Mirabella's "Project stall" (April 27) discusses how a myriad of high-rise commercial and residential spaces planned for Baltimore are being put on hold until the market sees better days. That's great.

This extra time gives architects and developers the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and make eco-friendly changes.

In many European cities, eco-friendly structures, including some with greenery on the exterior and at the top of buildings, are becoming the norm.

Trees and plants are being incorporated into buildings' design and even their insulation, and used to help convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Americans crave a greener environment, so U.S. builders should try cashing in on such designs.

Justin Cuffley, Baltimore

A chance for bikers to take new path?

The tragic loss of Officer Norman M. Stamp's life was traumatically felt by all who cherish and revere the God-given gift of living on this Earth for whatever period of time He mercifully grants us ("Stamp upheld two loyalties," April 25).

But to learn of this decorated public servant's dark and seedy other life - one that included, according to his closest friends and associates, fighting and other acts of mayhem - tarnishes his legacy for the community outside of his "close-knit" and "insular" bikers' club comrades.

I'd like to think that one of Baltimore's finest, who selflessly dedicated more than 40 years of his adult life to protect and serve all citizens, deserves a better testament to his life and legacy.

Could this death cause the Chosen Sons to engage in some introspection and redirection?

Lynnwood M. Taylor, Baltimore

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